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For as long as I could remember, my grandparents ran an old country store in front of our house. My young life was centered around that old farm house, acres of land and that small country store.
The house was a typical old farm house…two stories, plus basement and attic…14 large drafty rooms and a wide, wraparound porch. My Grandparent’s store was in front and to one side. Across the road, was the old barn, a garage and a gas pump, also ran by my Grandfather. The old barn was struck by lightning and burned down about 50 years ago. They say lightening doesn’t strike twice in the same place, but about a year later, lightening struck the garage that stood beside the old barn, burning the garage to the ground as well. The new garage, build in the same spot, was struck by lightening and burned about 3 years after. My Grandfather never built on that spot again! But, on the other side of the road that runs through the middle of our family farm, the proud old house and the small country store were spared to survive many more years.
My earliest memories include many memories of my grandparent’s store. It was often the meeting place for neighbors catching up on other neighbors. It was a small grocery store, later expanded to sell dry goods.
One fond memory is of one Christmas when my Dad dressed up like Santa to hear the heart’s desire of nearby farm children. As much as Dad tried to conceal from his own children that it was him, I knew immediately and called him Daddy. That is when Santa told me that he watched me all year and I was a bad girl.
Bad girl???? This angel????
That old country store was a gathering place ~ a neighborhood place. It was a happy place.
I remember after a hard day in the fields, many farmers would gather on the front lawn with my Grandfather. They sat or reclined in the cool grass to enjoy a cold beer or soda pop, except for my Grandfather, who always drank a quart of buttermilk. My Grandmother tended the store while my Grandfather had some guy time. One beverage and lots of talk later, they all went home for supper. In the daytime, ladies from the area stopped in all day long…each spending time to chat and catch up on events in the lives of other neighbors. I heard all about the lovely weddings, births of children, dogs, cats and calves and, of course, they always whispered things that I can only guess at today. Whatever was whispered was ever so scandalous by the standards of the day, but probably not as scandalous as the everyday events we hear today, more than 50 years later. As I think back over the years, I realize what a hub of activity was that little country store.
The store was an oasis in a farming area year around. An old pot belly stove was used to warm the small store in the winter time. In my mind, I can still see customers enter the store and stomp the snow off their feet before moving towards the pot belly stove to warm fingers numb with cold. In the summer, it was a quick stop to treat a carload of hot kids to ice cold pop from the big, red Coca Cola cooler or a Popsicle from the ice cream freezer. A Genesee cooler held a nice cold beer for a lingering visit in the cool of the afternoon. Many neighbors ran a grocery tab to be paid later. I imagine some were never paid, but because of the kind of people my grandparents were, I suspect they “forgot” some tabs for those not able to pay, or accepted whatever the customer could afford to pay. Our community was like that…offering a helping hand where needed without expecting anything in return. It is the farmer way.
I remember my Grandparents bustling around the store to take care of wants and needs of their customers. Neighboring farmers or their wives were contributors to the stock. We had produce according to season from neighboring farms. Milk and buttermilk in glass bottles with a cardboard cap. A family on the hill was widely known for their cheese making abilities. We had wonderful cheeses, from ricotta to big, round, wax coated sharp cheese that arrived in round, wooden boxes so useful to farmer wives of the area. Those round wooden boxes were saved and used to hold many, varied things. My Mother used one for a sewing box. My Grandmother kept pictures in one. My Grandmother always knew just exactly which neighbor lady was in line to receive the next box. I wish I had one today…just for the nostalgia factor…
Wonderful cheeses were sold by the hunk, carefully cut, weighed, wrapped in brown paper, tied with string and priced with a grease pencil. What we call luncheon meat today came in tubes of meaty delight from the kitchen of another farmer. I can still see, in my mind’s eye, my grandparents running that tube of lunch meat back and forth on the slicing machine, cutting the exact thickness according to instruction from the customer, then weighed, wrapped in that same brown paper, tied with string and priced. That old glass front cooler held small amounts of fresh beef, pork, sausage and eggs, also purchased from neighboring farms. Salami actually hung from the ceiling! It seemed to me that they had a little bit of anything anyone would want to buy. But, I was a child… What did I know?
The brown paper and string was used often all day long. The paper came on a huge roll that fit on a rod. A flat blade clamped down on to the roll so that all they had to do was pull out the amount they needed, then pull upward to cut the paper. The string was a huge spool that hung from the ceiling and always handy to pull as the package was wrapped and cut just before the final tie. To this day, brown paper and string stirs a yearning in me for a simpler time…
My grandparent’s store was my first stop as soon as I got off the school bus. My Grandparents were always happy to see me and indulge me in whatever I wanted whether it was penny candy, a candy bar, ice cream or an orange Nehi pop. I spent hours reading the comic books before placing them back on the rack. Anything I wanted to do was just fine. I cannot remember being disciplined by my Grandparents…at all… In fact, in retrospect, I can see where I was over indulged in one funny little way in my life. That was my use of coupons as money. My Mother would give me coupons to spend in the store. It didn’t matter for what product the coupon was intended. It was money to me. A five cent off coupon for Tide, for example, was just enough money for a candy bar. A couple of coupons might buy me a ten cent comic book. It was all good…. until we moved to Florida…
I was ten years old when we moved to Florida. My Mother no longer gave my sisters and me coupons for candy bars. I really didn’t think why… One day, I found a coupon for five cents. WOW!!! I could get a candy bar!!! I was so excited that I ran all the way across the vacant field to the closest store. I selected the candy bar that I wanted. When the cashier said “That will be five cents.” I handed her the five cent coupon that was, of course, for another product. The cashier looked at me like she couldn’t believe I was for real, and then she said “YOU CAN’T BUY ANYTHING WITH A COUPON!” I stammered out an answer about my grandparents and their store as she continued to stare at me like I had two heads… I left the store with a red face and NO candy bar. That was the day I learned just exactly how much my grandparents had spoiled me.
I still chuckle when I think about my Mother and Grandparents allowing me to use coupons to purchase candy, ice cream, pop and comic books. My Mom probably should have let me in on their game when we moved, but then, she probably thought at ten years old that I would be smart enough to NOT try to buy a candy bar with a coupon. Ahhh, but kids were so much more naïve in those days! Who knew?
Sadly, the old store is but a memory now. Weather and time took its toll on the old building. It sagged, and then collapsed over the years. Today, only some old chunks of concrete and stone identify the spot where the old country store once stood, bustling with life, love and happiness in a world long gone. The old house still stands, tall and proud…sad and alone…all warmth, love and laughter long gone from its lonely rooms.
Even so, my memories of a simpler, happier and innocent time will always warm my heart.
Written by Darlene Cirinna
Copyright September 22, 2010
Do not use without permission.
Image from Photobucket.