by Nancy W. Vickers
Hyatt Headley was a cross between Tom Sawyer and Bob Hope. To those who
knew him, he was a treasure. He always had a story and he could always
make you smile. We lost him on January 26, 2004 at the age of 86, and he
was buried at Bethany Baptist Church Cemetery in Callao. He will be sorely
missed, but the seeds of laughter he planted will live forever. Many called
him the unofficial “Mayor of Callao”; others called him the “Bob Hope of
Callao”. Nobody ever told a story like Hyatt! Folks would cluster around
him to listen.
His Mama never knew where Hyatt was. He was always running around the creek
shore or down looking at the steamships. He would head for the Cowart Wharf
at the end of the road soon after breakfast to join his buddies William
Cowart and Sam Headley, Jr.. Hyatt definitely was mischievous, a bit of
an instigator and always a leader. His childhood was filled with teasing,
fun and games. The three boys would work at odd jobs long enough to make
enough money to buy cookies and a drink. Once they purchased a pack of
cigarettes, but after getting sick and turning green, they swore an oath
to never tell, and their parents never did find out.
Hyatt was the ringleader of the three boys who always played together. His sense of humor could always draw a crowd when the steamboats docked at the local wharf. Produce, cattle, chickens, tomatoes, etc. were bought and sold at the docks, and Hyatt thrived on all the activity. The captains of the steamers looked for Hyatt and allowed him to come aboard. His imagination went wild and he thought he was in heaven as he roamed the decks of the steamer. His dream was to be a steamboat captain one day.
Mrs. Bea Gawen, Hyatt’s devoted special friend, shared a story with me about his love of steamboats. The boats would stop at the local ports where they would load and unload different items the local folks needed. Once Hyatt was allowed to come aboard and ride from the Cowart Wharf to the Lewisetta Wharf. The Captain let him blow the whistle before he got off the boat. Hyatt had to walk all the way home, a distance of about two miles, but he was happy as could be!
Mrs. Dora Harding held Sunday School in an outside shed lined with benches.
She would play the old pump organ and everyone would sing. During the little
service Hyatt was pumping the organ, and he had a mischievous grin on his
face. When he changed the song “Bringing in the Sheaves” to “Bringing in
the Cheese”, everyone burst out laughing. Mrs. Harding shook her finger
at him and said, “No more of that, Master Hyatt!”
Mrs. Carolyn Cralle, Hyatt’s sister, told me so many wonderful stories about her brother. Once some boys dared Hyatt to shave off all his hair. When his parents drove him to Lewis Evans’ Barber Shoppe in Callao in their Model T Ford, he jumped out of the car and ran in the shop. “Mama said shave all my hair off”, he told Lewis. By the time Mom and Dad arrived at the door, there was no turning back; half of his hair was already shaved off! He won the $5 bet, but his parents weren’t too happy.
When the Floating Theatre came to Kinsale, it anchored on the shore where
the granary is now located. Hyatt saw a way to earn some money because
big crowds always came to see the show. He would fill up some pitchers
and sell cups of water to the folks waiting on the hillside for the show
to begin. He was very innovative.
The Haydons were so good to Hyatt and they loved him like a son. Mrs. Haydon always saved him a pitcher full of fresh, cold milk because he loved it so much. Hyatt fell in love with the farmer’s daughter, Virginia, and they married on October 13, 1941.
The video rental store in Callao was once Hyatt and Virginia’s corner drug store known as People’s Drug Sundry. For 35 years (1940 until Hyatt’s retirement in 1975) this was the friendliest place in town. Hyatt greeted all of his customers by name as they entered his store and this made them feel important. He was famous for his jokes and stories, and nobody could tell them any better. He could make the best limeade in the world and spin a yarn at the same time. The taste of his fried chicken, hamburgers, fries, delicious homemade pies and chocolate nut sundaes lingers even today in the minds of his many friends. Mrs. Clara Headley, and later her daughter Mrs. Vivian Headley Balderson, made those wonderful pies for many years. The pies sitting near you at the counter on pedestal cake stands looked like a picture in a magazine.
Hyatt and Virginia would open the store early in the morning, and soon the row of counter seats would be filled with his “regulars” catching up on the news of the day. Salesmen loved swapping stories and jokes with Hyatt. Everyone knew him. New comic books came out on Tuesdays (two for 25 cents) and they sold out quickly.
Pat Hayden Crandol, one who well remembers Hyatt, recalls the fun she had
as a child waiting for rides home from his store on the corner in Callao.
Parents used the drug store as a pick-up place for kids taking swimming
lessons. “It was always a treat to get a drink and a pack of nabs or ice
cream while waiting for your ride home.” Hyatt made every child feel very
special. He always had something to say to them when they came in his store.
Hyatt could easily strike up a conversation with anyone, and he was especially
good at talking with children. He never had any children of his own, but
he had everyone else’s. He sponsored many a baseball team in his day. Hyatt
didn’t miss many local ball games, and he knew all the players by name.
He would take his folding chair to the Ruritan Ball Park in Callao and
sit with old friends like Milford Harrison.
Hyatt was a good Christian soul who dearly loved his Lord. His sister Carolyn has his long string of perfect attendance awards for not missing a Sunday in 12 years! He was an active member of Henderson United Methodist Church for 67 years, and he sang in the choir for 50. Hyatt’s very favorite poem, “Crossing the Bar” by Alfred Tennyson, was read at his funeral by his dear namesake and niece Virginia Hyte (Garland) Smith. This was a sweet ending for someone who dearly loved the sea and its ships.
Callao Day was always the best day of the year! The celebration included baby contests, crafts, food, a big crowd-pleasing parade, fire trucks, ambulances, Scouts, churches, politicians and a street dance in the evening. In 2003 Hyatt was honored at Callao Day because he was the last surviving charter member of the Callao Volunteer Fire Department founded in 1948. Hyatt took his place on the reviewing stand and was so proud as each unit passed by in front of him. The biggest surprise came when a very special float stopped in front of the stand. Lisa Deitz and some other friends had worked really hard for months secretly creating a float representing Hyatt’s People’s Drug Sundry store. It was a wonderful replica, complete with counter, barstools and friends drinking ice cream sodas. He rose to his feet proudly and was deeply touched to be honored with his own float. How the town of Callao kept that secret from him still remains a mystery.
He belonged to lots of organizations and helped support many others: The Ruritan Club, the Chamber of Commerce, Rappatomac Shrine Club, and he was also a member of Westmoreland Lodge #212 and Westmoreland Royal Arch (Chapter 41) of the Masonic Order. When he was in Lions Club, they all loved his tale spinner stories at the end of their meetings.
Hyatt’s sister Carolyn shared some of the sentiments written on cards and notes following his death. “Hyatt was quite a character, but always a gentleman.” “The memories of Hyatt continue to make us smile.” “Callao will never be the same, he was so much a part of the church and the community.” “The community has lost a good friend and a dear neighbor.”
We can still hear his often-used expressions such as: “Gracious me! Indeed my Lord, that’s the truth!” He was a lover of steamships, a practical joker, a wonderful storyteller, a party person and a great listener. Hyatt was never unkind and he never complained about things. He had a quick wit, excellent recall and everyone enjoyed his marvelous sense of humor.
Goodbye to the unofficial “Mayor of Callao”. Knowing him was a real blessing and an honor. There will never be another like him; he was one of a kind who will remain in our hearts forever.
About the author: It has
been nearly twenty years since Nancy and Charlie Vickers moved down from
Fairfax to Westmoreland County on Gardner Cove.They have two grown children
and thoroughly enjoy spending time with their grandchildren. After retiring
from the Federal Government in Dahlgren in 1995, Nancy began her writing
career and continues to write articles and poetry for Chesapeake Style
Magazine. She has written two books (Poems from the Heart and The Whitney
Storybook: Life on the South Dakota Prairie). Nancy encourages others to
record those priceless family stories while their loved ones are still
around to enjoy them. This tribute to Hyatt Headley was published in the
Northern Neck of Virginia Historical Magazine, December 2004.
Reprinted with permission of the Editor, Northern Neck of Virginia Historical Magazine, December 2004.
© 2004 Nancy W. Vickers All Rights Reserved
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