A Talk With Bill Talkington
On the 29th of July early in the day I stopped by Bill Talkington’s Gun Shop. I wanted to talk with him about the changes he had witnessed throughout his life when it came to the outdoors. For as long as I can remember Bill is the person whom I believe to be a true outdoorsman. I figured if anyone could relate to the changing outdoor world it would be him.
When I arrived the only vehicle parked out front was Bill’s Ford Explorer. You would recognize it because of the words on the side of the doors, ‘FARM USE’. On his business door the sign reads ‘OPEN’ indicating he was inside. You would be hard pressed not to find Bill in his business except during the early days of the pandemic. As I stepped inside I watched as Bill was busy sweeping dirt clods from the floor. The day before someone had tracked mud inside and it dried overnight.
As I watched Bill go about his task of sweeping, I thought back to a time 47 years ago. It was mid-November and I had just returned from the Air Force. I needed my hunting license. Back then Bill’s place was the center of hunting season for most of the hunters in the area. Most anything you needed to hunt squirrel, rabbit or deer could be had inside Bill’s shop. And then come the first day of season people gathered to watch as hunters brought their deer to be checked in. Out front opening day deer hung from a rack for inspection by on lookers. Looking back the first day of season was about as big an event as Thanksgiving and Christmas, at least for hunters. Hunters in red and black checkered coats and orange vests gathered to share stories of the long shot they took and the ones that got away. Inside the gun shop the air had a smell of wood smoke from the stove used to warm the room. Behind the far counter Bill was showing a gun to a customer. And close by, Beulah was directing waiting hunters wanting to talk with Bill. That was 47 years ago and Bill is still sweeping mud from the floors and a hint of wood smoke still lingers.
Looking around the room, you will see a couple dozen big game mounts. Elk, Caribou and an assortment of white tail deer. Along with the larger animals there’s a lynx along with a variety of small game animals. They all had the appearance of having hung in the shops interior for many years. I recognized that behind each animal, there is a story of a long ago hunt. And I figure those stories of past hunts have been told repeatedly by Bill and his friends and customers. I wondered if those stories of past hunts are still being told. Maybe today I would hear a story of a past hunting adventure. You see, I was there to talk with Bill about his life and those stories of yesterday’s outdoors.
About then Bill finished his sweeping and with a warm smile motioned for me to come inside. Bill took his usual position behind the counter. I began by asking about his early life and his family. He thought for moment and then asked if I knew where Deadfall was? Now, to be honest I may have heard that word before, but more as a term for a primitive hunting trap. Bill laughed.
Bill is the son of Percy D. and Donah (Hayes) Talkington Hayes. Bill’s father was born and raised in Deadfall West Virginia. He worked as a lathe operator in a plant near Pittsburgh turning metal blanks into barrels for battleships. The lathe he operated was over a hundred feet long. During the war Bill’s father was not drafted because he had a critical job in the war effort. Bill’s mother taught school in the surrounding area. Bill explained that back then, she could teach with a certificate. His mother was close to finishing her studies at Salem, but had not yet completed her schooling.
Bill paused for a moment, then he told me at the age of sixteen everything changed. His father’s job at the time took him to the Goodyear aircraft plant. He was looking for a home for his family when he was killed in a car accident. Bill had plans to attend Kent State to continue his education. That expectation ended with his father’s death.
With his father’s sudden death plans changed for the entire family. Bill instead enrolled at West Virginia University and studied mathematics for one semester. After the first semester Bill decided to join the Marines. Being only seventeen he needed his mother to sign allowing him to join before his eighteenth birthday, which she did.
Bill’s mother’s life also changed and she attended Salem College to complete her teaching degree. She taught in the Smithfield area for many years. She passed away at the age of eighty.
Before I went on with my interview, my curiosity told me to ask Bill where Deadfall West Virginia is. He again chuckled before explaining that to get to Deadfall, I would have to travel to Smithfield, then head toward Mannington for five miles. Turn right up a hollow. He also explained during the oil boom years it was called Maxburg. The Talkington farm sat on 115 acres. Bill talked about growing up and working on the farm. The family farmed while also keeping cows, sheep and hogs. He told me his grandparents are buried on the farm. Each May he returns to that plot of land where his grandparent’s graves are located. He wonders what will happen when he can no longer care for their graves.
Bill has an older brother who is retired from the Coast Guard and lives in Elizebeth City, NC. He is older than Bill at age 85. Bill also has a sister, who is 87 and lives in Eugene Oregon.
It is important for you to know that throughout our conversation Bill spoke of Beulah many times. I have no doubt that their lives together was written in the stars. Their story together could only be described as they were truly meant for each other.
When I asked Bill how they met, he grinned and chuckled. He went on to explain that he was home on leave and it was late at night when he ended up in the Whitehouse restaurant. While he and his friend Dean Wilson were waiting for their meal, he heard some girls talking behind him. One of them was Beulah. They were talking about someone getting married.
“I turned around because I recognized Beulah’s voice because I had met her before at the 4-H Camp. I asked, “Are You Getting Married?” I asked. She replied sharply, “Well, what if I am.” I said, who’s the unlucky guy?” She stomped her foot and said, “One thing for sure Bill Talkington, it’ll not be you.” He laughed as he said, “And you see how that turned out “
Next week I will continue my story of Bill Talkington and his life as an outdoors man and marksman.