MUSHY'S MOOCHINGS: THE GENERAL STORE

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

THE GENERAL STORE

You could roll all my nine first days at school into one terrifying event and you would still not come close to the intimidation I felt the first day my Uncle Ersie put me at the front counter of his general store. Up until that day, I had only put up stock, swept the floor, and filled the cold-water drink cooler with Double Cola, Cokes, Pepsi, Nehi Orange, and Grape sodas, and Sun Drops. Some of you will remember the days when soft drinks were a nickel apiece and you opened the lid of a drink cooler, and slid your drink selection along a metal rail, bottle still in the cold water, to where you placed the drink in the bottle slot and then pulled it up through a the bottle brake that opened if you had put your nickel in. They day drinks went to six cents caused a lot more work in the store. The drink cooler was not set up for an extra penny, so the bottle brake was locked open and everyone had to pay their six cents at the counter.

There was so much to remember and so many questions to answer: Where is the soda powder? Where is the baking powder? How much is the cheese a pound? How much is the bologna a pound? You got any 10-penny nails? You got any larger bags of corn meal? How much is my bill?

Everyone had a bill book located in a big metal box on the rear counter with their respective names printed on the end tab and filed alphabetically. Farmers usually only made money at the end of the summer when their crops came in, and my uncle carried them through the lean months on a hand written bill. Some were just a few dollars while others were several hundred dollars. My uncle did not seem worried about the bottom line because in those days people paid their bills, maybe not as quickly as he would have liked, but he knew all of them, who their children were, who they had married, and what relation they all were to him and the others, and he knew they would eventually pay.

People were just trustworthy in those days, pumped their own gas out front, came in, and told us how much they owed, and we never questioned their word. You cannot do that today!

On Fridays and Saturdays my two uncles (the other on was Uncle Arvie, cousin Lawrence's dad), my Aunt Lois, and I covered the counter and running to and fro up and down the aisles filling the customer's orders, and finally sacking it all up in a "poke" and recording the total on their tab.

After about two days I became comfortable with the routine and my knowledge of the store. I began to relax and watch the people as the came and went.

I began to know each customer by name. When they said, "Put on my bill," I often did not have to ask their name. I began to know the brand of snuff or tobacco each person liked and the kind of knife each carried. There was always some knife swapping going on. There was always someone, more often than not a group, sitting out front on a wooden drink bottle cases whittling, spitting tobacco, and talking about the weather.

I remember the parking area in front of the store was littered with drink bottle tops, all mashed down against the asphalt, some up, and some down. There must have been thousands of them laying there where someone had tossed it and leaned back on their bottle case and took a long slow tug on the cold liquid to settle the day's dust.

As the days and years went by, I began to like working the store. It was comforting to see the same people every day and to work along side my extended family. I was proud of my uncle who owned the only store in that area. Everyone called him "Drummer" from the years when converted trucks used to come by farms full of life's little necessities plus ice cream, candy, and cold drinks. When the truck was spotted, someone would call out "Yonder comes the Drummer!", and everyone ran for the road to reward themselves for the hard work they had done. My favorite was a Zero bar and a Sun Drop cola! If there were no Zero bars, I got a Coke and filled the glass neck up with salty peanuts.

Years later, I would be introduced to a Middle Tennessee treat called the "Turkey Drop!" It consisted of Wild Turkey and Sun Drop - mighty good!

One event will always stick in my mind. One of store's patrons was known as the areas big cattle farmer and he often truckeHerefordig white-faced Herford around to various farms for breeding purposes. While his owner was inside the store, I can remember looking at the massive bull while sweeping up the front porch. I looked at the bull's swinging equipment and thought about how he had it made.

I told someone that if we got to come back when we died as an animal, that I wantedHereforda big white-faced Herford with a package like that. He was trucked around from farm to farm, feed often, and had exclusive rights to all the pretty cows! What a life! Years later when McDonald's came along, I was not quite so sure being a big bull was a smart aspiration!

Just now I closed my eyes trying to remember it all; I get pictures, and smells I thought were gone. I remember how I loved slicing cheese off the big cheese wheel and weighing it on the big white scales with the rolling measure dial. I can smell the sweeping compound pushed along on the wooden floor in front of the big push broom. I can hear the air compressor running in the storage area that ran along one side of the store. I can feel the light grease on the nails has I weighed and poured them into little sacks. I can hear the footsteps of all those heavy work boots on the plank floor. I can hear the snap of a good knife springing shut.

Last time I was through the area, the old store still stood (see photo), and just across the street was a new and larger, more modern store, that my Aunt Louise had built sometime after Uncle Ersie died.

I suppose she too remembers the old store and hears and smells all the memories too. Like me she does not want it to be forgotten, because they were good times, good people, and great memories of a time America trusted each other.
UPDATE: My cousin Doris Ann just let me know that Aunt Louise still uses the book to record everybody’s “tab” and the same adding machine that was used in the old store!

7 comments:

Fathairybastard said...

Very nice post. I bet that old building has stories from way before you that would be fun the hear. It's a shame places like that get run down.

In the little town where my mother grew up, where my maternal grandparents lived when I was growing up, there was a store that had originally begun as a bank. The old guy who ran it, Luther Marx, was a great guy to me when I was a kid. I used to walk over and visit him when we went to see the Grandparents. He died when I was in high school and now the place is a gun store. I've driven by there a million times in the last decade since I moved down here but haven't been in the place since old Luther was there. Memories. Keep it up.

Fathairybastard said...

...and cross-species penis envy? All righty then. Swing low, sweet cheriot.

Alisa said...

You have to wish that communities would go back to the way they used to be instead of these megamalls and strip malls every few blocks.

What a great memory for you to have.

Becky said...

Wow, I can't imagine any type of store that still records tabs in this day and age. Perhaps I'm just too cynical to trust anyone.

Mushy said...

It's a pre-boomer generation living in the old south. They trust and believe in the goodeness of people. I suppose it is still working or she would have stopped by now.

It is a very rural area that still depends on the soil for a great part of their living.

Janet said...

It's true. You don't see General Stores anymore. In general, that is.:)

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