We lost a bit of America when the old country stores closed. It was inevitable, but still regrettable. They couldn’t compete with the glitz, glamour, and “low prices,” of the mega-box outlets. But still …
You won’t find a mega-box with an old pot-bellied stove like they had in those old places on the side of the highway. There would be a certain time of the morning when men would gather and swap lies, talk about the crops, re-live fishing and hunting trips, and sometimes tell a joke or two, mostly on each other.
They sold essentials, those stores. That’s all people could afford or needed back in the day. For the rare treat, there was, of course, a “cold-drink” box that, at one time was just a fancy container of chilled water. The drink bottles were tiny by today’s standards, almost disappearing in the large, rough hand of a Delta farmer.
There was usually a side-structure jutting out where a person could load feed for livestock.
There were also things you won’t find anymore, like maybe a large glass crock of pigs feet or pickles. Sugar was scooped out of a barrel and vegetables picked from wooden bins. There were things that reflected how simply the poor lived then such as “imitation jelly.” They were places known more for essentials than choices.
Don’t forget the wood stove during the winter. In the summer, there might be an electric fan or two. There were always chairs for those taking a break or just wanting to engage in gossip. Once, I went into one that had a small “lending library” of books for the local customers. Another had a large photograph of the ship on which the owner of the store came to America. It was framed as a shrine and she would tell you all about it if you asked, although you might not understand all of what she said.
On Saturday nights, the places would stay open until midnight or later. A radio would play “The Grand Ole Opry, customers would purchase the things they need for a week or a month, folks would visit, and the children would play outdoors until the mosquitoes got too bad or sleep overtook them.
There are still a few small stores around in isolated places, but mostly they won’t come back. Life is much too fast these days. There is almost always a mega-box store within driving distance. They offer much more variety, and are cheaper if we don’t factor in the externalities. They are “magic” places to many because of their size, grandeur, and limitless choices.
None of them, though, have a gathering place for the good old boys to swap lies.
Economy, prudence, and a simple life are the sure masters of need, and will often accomplish that which, their opposites, with a fortune at hand, will fail to do. - Clara Barton
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