Thursday, April 23, 2015

Country Stores

The country or mercantile store stocked items that were needed on the farm or in the home that would save their customers the long trip to town when time was precious. It wasn't unusual to see fan belts hanging near jars of mustard and ketchup. Cans of 30 weight oil would be stashed next to the soda crackers. Rubber galoshes were stored on bottom shelves and 20 Mule Team Borax soap was easy to hand as it was used not only the housewife, but her spouse for cleaning hides to tan. Hoe and ax handles occupied a dark corner. Items the farm family would run out of or break at the time they were most needed. Every thing was crammed into a small dark space that was lite by kerosene lamps until RECC strung electric lines, which in remote areas did not arrive until after WWII.
A radio perched on a shelf above the cash register. It was tuned to the local station for weather reports, music, and late breaking news. A city newspaper was neatly folded on the counter and most likely a day or more old, but read by customers before being returned to the counter. It was then recycled as wrapping for a package or sandwich.
A phone was mounted on the wall beside the door. The owner collected a nickel before you turned the handle and gave the number or name of the person you wanted to call to the operator, who placed the call for you.
A few had small lunch counters for area workers to grab a sandwich (made to the customer's specifications on the spot), chips, and a beverage. Most of the time the drink cooler occupied a space on the porch within easy reach of a bench or hickory slate bottom chairs where customers relaxed between jobs and traded news of the day. Spring through Fall these were occupied from opening until the lock was turned for the evening.
Recycling of bottles was the prerogative of children, who collected the empties and earned a penny for each return. The precious earnings were gaily spent on another soda or candy bar.
Outside there was a 55 gallon drum with a pump for filling a jug with kerosene. There was one or sometimes two if the store was on a major pike out by the road for regular and diesel gas. The brands differed, but one I remember was the flying red horse. The customer obtained the key to the pump, filled our own tank, relocked it, and paid inside. A normal fill up was five gallons at 25 cents per gallon. Beside the pump was a bucket of water, a squeegee, with a towel for cleaning windshields and air for the tires was free.
The corner store was a mecca for small children whose eyes would devour all the shelves of wonders and listen with relish to the tales that were told. The town of Grab, KY in Adair County was so named because the owner of the store kept a bucket of hard candy for small children to "grab one handful" when accompanied by an adult.
Cold winds brought everyone inside to a wood stove and a barrel with a checker board, where many a battle was raged. A pot of vegetable soup and coffee kept hot on the stove replaced the summer fair.
There are still a few such stores operating in KY today and several have gained a national reputation, but the ambiance is not the same with plastic wrapped sandwiches, candies, and prepackaged goods.
Who can remember when the owner took bulk cheese or bologna from the cooler, used a counter knife to slice a hunk, fished a pickle out of the jar with his fingers, and handed it to you. Did anyone die from such cavalier sandwich makings?

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