So Much More Than... Gas! Groceries! Feed! Fertilizer!
A Once Thriving Community Store
Home long abandoned!
Old credit card machine
Most of the time, when I tell folks I grew up in a general store, I think they form images of a barn-like structure, something like on Little House on the Prairie or possibly “Sam Drucker’s” store.
Then again, perhaps, they grew up in a place like I did – a block building located on a little stretch of highway nuzzled in the Appalachian Mountains. My block building was called “Community Corner,” and you could purchase GAS! GROCERIES! FEED! FERTILIZER!
“Community Corner” was more than a block building since it was not just the family business, it was the family home. We lived in the basement which was as wide and long as the store itself. When friends spent the night with me, they had to spend several nights before getting accustomed to the ding of the cars driving over the bell hose that signaled someone had driven by the gas pumps located in front of the store because people stopped even after hours in order to buy a drink from one of the drink machines located on either side of the front door or maybe to use the payphone that stood in a booth on the edge of the parking lot.
I learned all about groceries growing up in our general store. We were all on call on grocery delivery day. A big truck would deliver boxes upon boxes of can and paper goods. If you were not upstairs in the store when the truck pulled in, then the intercom buzzer would start beeping and that meant you better get it in gear. My brother and I would race to see who could use the price gun the fastest; but, we knew we better stack, display and put the newest items in the back or we were looking at doing it all over again. To this day, I always choose the candy bar farthest from the front. And we sold lots of candy. During Christmas, Mama and Daddy always made sure we had the bagged kind of candy. The kind that you get in a clear baggy: chocolate drops, stick candy and orange slices.
Bagged candy can go only so far because eventually “town” grew more “townified.” Bigger stores were newer and could buy in much bigger bulk forcing general stores on little stretches of highway to transform into gas stations with smaller and smaller inventories. In retrospect, I marvel at the stamina and perseverance my parents must have had in order to hold onto our community store for as long as they did.
Feed and fertilizer were the first to go, and I can remember being kind of glad not understanding the greater significance. I was glad because I was a kid and the old-timers who bought the stuff seemed to glean too much satisfaction out of making me feel like an idiot because of my lack of knowledge regarding feed and fertilizer. I regret that I did not learn more so I could have been more informed.
Do not get me wrong. There were lots of good years before “townification” won out. Oh! The people I met and grew up knowing. Just the other day, I ran into a young lady who I first met when she was just a baby, who grew up coming to our store with her grandpa. She asked me if I could remember carrying her around and playing with her. And I do remember.
I remember meeting and gettingto know so many folks from every walk of life - People who literally had nothing to people who owned third and fourth homes-People who could not read nor write yet trusted me to sign their names for them-People who ran big companies and owned their own airplanes.
I met one of my favorite authors when she stopped by the store: Lee Smith. If you have never read Oral History, or my favorite, Fair and Tender Ladies, you have missed out on a realistic presentation of Appalachian culture. She bought a coke ( the small glass bottle kind) and a pack of peanuts. So many people walked into our store and by proxy, our home.
I remember how one summer I thought my arm would surely fall off from dipping out ice cream. There’s something about freshly-dipped ice cream in the summer-time that drives people a little crazy. During this time, a family from New Jersey stopped by on their way somewhere. They might as well as have been from New Guinea for I could not understand them and they could not understand me. Our dialects were so strong. But, I finally got everyone in their clan a cone of freshly-dipped ice cream with each taking a turn pointing to the kind he or she wanted. Daddy completed the transaction for he was running the cash register.
I learned how to run a cash register, the old kind of credit card machines, pump gas, and the truth about so many things such as fellows are much bigger gossipers than ladies. Sorry guys if you disagree, just reporting my experience. It was mainly men who “hung out” at the store and they talked. They knew everything about everybody. I think they must have thought that since I was just a girl, I was not listening…
But I knew that when Lambert (names changed-you know-to protect…) came in on Saturday evenings wearing a clean shirt doused in “Old Spice” that he would be meeting up with Kathy later on in the evening which would not be a big deal, except Kathy was not his wife.
I knew to make myself scare when Odell came in to buy his weekly prophylactic that Daddy kept hidden under the counter, and that meant he and his wife would be getting it on later that night.
I knew that when Becky came by she needed to "hang out" for a long while because Butch was on one of his binges, and I had seen the marks left on Becky after one of Butch’s binges.
So, you see, our corner in the community was about so much more than gas, groceries, feed and fertilizer.
And, even after the last block is hauled away, (a four-lane is replacing the two-lane where our store, our home and the homes of many others along that stretch of highway), it will not matter because I know that little stretch of highway nuzzled in the Appalachian Mountains quite well.
And I will still hear the bell-hose every time I pass, but most of all, I will remember the people who were the community and who I grew up with on my little community corner.