Today (Thursday) is Christmas Day, and the world’s most famous holiday evokes many different memories for many different people.
For Claude Deaton of Vevay, his life is filled with many different Christmas memories, but all of them center on family.
Claude has been recuperating from a broken hip at the Swiss Villa Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Vevay; but shortly after this interview, he returned home in time for the Christmas holiday.
Claude and Pat Deaton and their family have been synonymous with the Vevay IGA grocery store for years before retiring, but the Deaton family is still very active all over the community.
“Christmas was really special when we were in the store,” Claude Deaton said. “Helping people. The churches would get the people who needed it the most, and we would get it all together and deliver it at no charge. We never charged for delivering groceries. One year they had nearly 200 people that we got groceries for. Our kids and our family delivered all of them. It was our blessing to do that, because there are some great people in this county.”
Claude and Pat Deaton started the grocery store in 1968 at the Liberty Street location, across from the Sheriff’s Office.
“The guy left it because he said there wasn’t enough business,” Claude said, “But he didn’t run it right. They had a guy at the IGA chain who was over it, and he was the smartest grocery man that I had ever seen. He came down and talked with us about it and starting the store up. He told us how to be successful in the grocery business.”
Claude Deaton grew up in Bowlingtown, Kentucky, in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains in Perry County near Hazard. The town is now a part of the Buckhorn Lake State Park.
“No roads,” he said. “We used the creeks for roads, because we were using horses and mules to travel. That’s where I grew up. We were a family of 10 kids, five boys and five girls. Everyone of us are still living.”
Claude’s parents were Bill and Jessie Deaton. Bill Deaton worked on the WPA in the 1930s.
Christmas when Claude was a boy with his siblings and parents left quite an impression.
“We got presents,” Claude said. “Dad always got us something. Some toy or something like that. We always got something. My mother and my father were two of the greatest people I ever knew.”
But the holiday spirit wasn’t just reserved for December 25th.
“Christmas was better back then than it is today, I believe,” he said. “People were different. People in that area, if somebody was sick and couldn’t farm his farm, they’d go farm it for him. When I was 13 years old, we had a family that lived along a big long creek that went to the top of the hill and there was an old man and his wife and his son and two daughters lived there. Dad came to me and said that they needed wood to heat their place for the winter, so he told me to take the mule and pull out wood that would make good firewood for them. I worked a week doing that. No pay, just helping our neighbors. That’s how people were back then. They were some of the greatest people I’ve ever met.”
He also said that Christmas was a time for going out and visiting family and friends. Not just giving presents, but spending time visiting and enjoying each other’s company.
Claude’s first job was working for his uncle at a sawmill. He proudly recalls that he could figure how many boards they could get out of a log and still leave a 2×4 in the center, not wasting anything.
“The only thing wasted was the sawdust,” he smiled.
Not attending high school, Claude Deaton set out for a job in Lafayette, Indiana; and in 1949 he decided that he would join the Army.
“I went to mom and dad’s and told them I was going in the military and learn to run bulldozers and things like that,” Claude said. “The only thing I got to run was a tank in Korea, but it was an experience that everyone should have.”
Claude said that when he was getting ready to enter the Army, his parents and brothers and sisters were planning what they were going to do – because a dam was being built five miles from the community of Bowlingtown, and that dam would form Buckhorn Lake, flooding the area.
“My dad knew he had to do something,” Claude recalled. “His uncle had a 300-acre farm in Brookville, Indiana, and he asked my dad to go and tend that farm for him. When I was in the Army and came home for the holidays, they were getting ready to move – it was a place I’d lived in all my life – and my mom was saying that they would all be okay, but it would be a little rough until they got a garden planted.”
Claude Deaton was determined, even at a young age, that his parents and brothers and sisters weren’t going to have to struggle.
“I said, ‘No, I’ll make out an allotment of $50 per month out of my check and have it sent home’,” he said. “My mom said, ‘Oh no’, and I said, ‘Oh yes’. I had that sent home every month from 1950 to 1953 when I got out of the service.”
Claude Deaton came out of the Army and went straight to work, eventually landing a position with Public Service Indiana, a utility company. It was around that time that he met Pat Tebbe, who lived with her family in Brookville; and after some courting, Claude and Pat were thinking about getting married, so Claude decided he needed a better job to provide more security for his new wife.
The couple was married in 1953.
“I worked 23 years for Public Service, and I studied electricity for 10 years,” Claude said. “After 10 years, I took the journeyman’s test. I passed it, but they told me I missed one question because they said I had a misspelled word. I don’t think they wanted anyone to get 100-percent.”
Even without attending high school, Claude said that he worked hard on reading and enjoyed reading, gaining much of his knowledge through reading and study. He proudly says that he earned his GED in Connersville, Indiana, in 1959.
“The man who gave me the test said that there were 95 math questions on the test, and I only missed one,” he recalled. “I told him I’d always been good in math. My whole family is good in math. My daughter (Sheila Gault) was a math teacher for 22 years.”
Being back at his home today for Christmas is very special for Claude Deaton. He said that he will see all of his family during the holidays; and during his stay at Swiss Villa, one or two of his children or grandchildren would visit him nearly everyday.
“Family is so important,” he said. “That means everything. All my family, that’s the greatest gift a person could ever receive.”
Claude Deaton has been battling health issues recently. He said that he suffered a stroke eight months ago, and was getting along fine with a walker; but 14 weeks ago he was getting ready to go to bed when his left leg buckled, breaking his left hip. That landed him in Swiss Villa for rehabilitation.