Remembering Asbury and North Street

“Ask yourself how old would you be
If you didn’t know the day you were born”

From “Don’t Let the Old Man In” by Toby Keith

By Jim Muir

I want to begin today by asking you to ponder the poignant question raised by country star Toby Keith in his classic song, “Don’t let the old man in.” While you might have a totally different perspective on that powerful lyric, what I take from that line is simple. Are we all expected to act a certain way just because there is a number attached to us that is based on the day we were born?

Asbury and the Dugger sisters (clockwise from bottom left) Susie, Connie, Darby and Nancy.

I heard that song for the first time recently and that single, simple line has caused me to do a lot of thinking and soul-searching. In short, should we act, dress, eat, talk, retire, sleep and interact with others based on “the day you were born.” In short, I believe our age is a number and we’re only as old as we feel! In other words, being a certain age isn’t a doesn’t mean we should be grouchy, irritable or quit work and things we enjoy doing.
That little blast about the past was prompted by a column I wrote last month lamenting the fact that young folks don’t play outside anymore and that 21st Century gizmos and gadgets have sadly taken the place of those wonderful sandlot games of (name the sport) that many of us enjoyed in the days of our youth. Many people reached out to me about that column, all people in my age group, and agreed that with the loss of neighborhood interaction with friends we have lost something very special through the decades. Sadly, I don’t think it’s something that will ever be regained.

I want to continue on that same theme this month. Let me explain!

From the time I was born until I left home at the ripe old age of 18, I lived on North Street in Sesser. There were two locations on that wonderful little street, but North Street was home and still holds countless great memories for me. Here’s a little geography lesson on North Street. If you were to travel north on Route 148 out of Sesser, three blocks from the 4-Way stop is where North Street intersects with the state highway. Even as a kid I always found it interesting that North Street runs east and west?! There’s no wonder I am sometimes confused!

From the time I was born until I was 12 years old my family lived in a small house on North Street, east from Route 148. Then we moved three blocks west to a much nicer and larger house that was one block west of Route 148, but still on North Street. Interestingly, at both locations there was a vacant lot that became a hangout for youngsters from the neighborhood for games of every competition imaginable. If you’re young and reading this and you have every wondered why your parents or grandparents are stubborn and hard-headed, look no further than those highly-spirited and competitive neighborhood games from yester-year where determination, grit, toughness and a will-to-win were honed.

Mr. Asbury sitting on his front steps with Susie Dugger.

My recollection from those days on North Street started me thinking of the many people from that neighborhood and one elderly gentleman also came to mind. Directly across the street from the first house I lived in on North Street was a simple, gray house with a front porch. An elderly man that all the neighborhood kids called “Asbury” lived there alone. I have thought often that I wished I had taken notes or kept a journal during those childhood days so I could recall exact details about Asbury. I just remember him as being a kind, gentle, always-smiling man who loved the kids in the neighborhood. In fact, that vacant lot where we congregated, often more than a dozen kids, belonged to Asbury. And it never failed that when we had one of our epic games of wiffle ball, football or maybe even Red Rover, Asbury would come outside with a bowl of candy, a plate of cookies and a pitcher of lemonade for us. Sadly, I don’t know if parents would allow the interactions we had with Asbury to happen here in 2024. I guess that’s something else we’ve lost along the way.

While the memories of my friends from that wonderful neighborhood – the Dugger sisters (Darby, Nancy, Connie and Susie), Lecil, Terry, Rick and Debbie Witcher, Rick Basso, Jeff Wilkerson, Joe and Shelley Marlo, Roger Jones, Lanny Allen, Kevin and Greg Minor, my brother Billy and many others are warm and vivid in my mind, thoughts of our friend Asbury also provide wonderful recollections about the good old days on North Street.

I recently had a conversation with a longtime friend and stories about Asbury surfaced. I was told that he was buried at Paradise Prairie Cemetery, located on Route 154 in Perry County. On a recent day I decided to try to find his grave and without much effort I was able to locate it. As I stood at his gravesite, I studied the names and dates on the gray, marble monument. The information was scant and provided me with a few answers, but also raised more questions.
Asbury was born in 1877 and died in 1963 at the age of 86, so in those days when he wasn’t acting his age and instead was laughing, joking and making lemonade for youngsters he would have been in his 80s. His wife, Mae, was born in 1865 and died in 1955 at the age of 90, so he was a widower during those days. I also found it interesting that Mae was 12 years old than him, but perhaps the one bit of information I gleaned from the monument was the death of an infant child that was born and died in 1915.

Was that Asbury’s only child that had died? And was that why he loved that rag-tag group of heathens on North Street so much? I suppose those questions will remain unanswered, but as I stood at his monument and pondered things like age, mortality, names and dates chiseled in marble, children playing games on vacant lots and wonderful memories, the one constant thought that kept rolling around in my mind is that everybody should have the privilege and joy once during their lifetime of having a friend like Asbury!

Let me leave you today with a question I began this offering with: “How old would you be if you didn’t know the day you were born?

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