The Country Store
Bettye H. Galloway
Anyone who grew up in the rural South prior to World War II knows that every small community had a name. Most of them had a gristmill and a saw mill, some of them even had a post office, a school, and a doctor, but without a doubt all of them had a store which was the hub of the community.
The store in my community sat at the intersection of the crossroads, a long, narrow frame building with a packed dirt porch held up by cedar posts bare of bark, but with stubs on the posts where limbs had been cut with a handsaw. On a hot summer day, resin would still ooze from the posts. The porch had never been floored, but the dirt had been packed hard by years of traffic of work shoes. The porch was the heart of the community, the place where farmers gathered to meet and greet, to discuss the weather and politics, to discuss the state of the crops in the field, to trade knives, and to play dominoes and checkers with soft drink caps on a hand-drawn cardboard box. It didn’t matter that no purchases were made, or needed, the men simply needed to “go to the store.” The porch was furnished with nail kegs, one for the boards for the checkers and domino games, and the others for seats for the players. In one corner of the porch was the gasoline tank with its glass upper tank holding and measuring the gasoline as the handle pumped the desired sale. On a porch post beside the gas tank was a flat board for use when a tube had to be patched--usually with a “hot patch” which required a roughening of the damaged area. With the patch, material in a tiny flat pan was lit, allowed to get hot, and then applied to the tube to seal the hole.
Ah, but the inside of the store was a treasure trove! Always dark and gloomy because no electricity was available, there were delightful items everywhere. On one side of the aisle, the shelves held canned goods in a very limited supply because the locals grew and preserved all their needed fruits and vegetables. But tea and coffee were staples that had to be purchased, and the counter always held a round block of cheese along with, wonder of wonders, jars of stick candy and packs of gum. The shelves on the other side of the aisle were dedicated to pots and pans and other household goods as well as work shoes and denim pants and shirts.
A corner in the rear of the store was partitioned into a small floored interior room completely lined with a metal screen to provide a barrier for mice where flour, meal, sugar, and animal feed were kept. The center part of the rear held a wood heater in a box filled with sand which heated the store in winter, and where the checkers and domino games were held after the crops were gathered.
Unlike modern day grocery stores, customers did not help themselves to anything. The store clerk retrieved the requested items, carried them to the cash register, took the payment, or in some cases entered them, item by item, into a ledger and had the customer sign the page for future payment. Also in the front beside the door stood a massive red box which held icy cold NEHI Peach Sodas and Grapettes which I was allowed if I had been exceptionally good!