Now to some thoughts on how the country store of long ago helped neighborhood people have a happy Christmas.
My best remembrance of a country store was one operated by my maternal grandfather, Francis Jasper Collins, better known as “Bud.” My first recollection of his country store was of a large, rambling building right on the road, now named Liberty Church Road. The outside of the store building was gray and weathered.
A set of scales sat on the porch. On these scales, my Grandfather and my maiden aunts, Avery and Ethel, who worked as clerks in the store, weighed the live chickens that country people brought to barter for goods. After weighing the chickens (in coops), and subtracting the weight of the coop, the clerks calculated how much “money” was available for trade. They turned the chickens loose in a pen lined and ceiled with chicken wire at the side of the store. There the chickens would be fed and watered until Grandfather went to Gainesville to trade them for a load of goods for the store.
I’m not sure when this old gray building was torn down and a new smaller store building built closer to the house. Seeing the old storehouse go seemed to me, even as a young child, to be the passing of an era. I loved that old store building with its long counters and all the merchandise that sat on the shelves to be purchased by people who brought chickens and eggs, tanned skins of animals, chestnuts, chinquapins, and sorghum syrup to be traded for “store-bought” goods. The barter helped them to get coffee, sugar, salt, baking powder, spices, shoes, and yard goods from which dresses and shirts were made by industrious housewives of the community. Men’s overalls, work shirts and socks were part of the inventory. And the glassed-in candy counter boasted chocolate drops, sugared orange slices, and peppermint and licorice stick candy in boxes or to be purchased for a penny by the stick! What an enticement this array of candy was to my young eyes! I can remember Grandfather reaching into the counter and getting a chocolate drop to give me, even if I didn’t have the penny to pay for it.
The “new” store had a front porch as well, with the usual scales to the left of the entrance door. The chicken pen was attached to the right side of the store, outside. In my young eyes, the procedures at the “new” store had not changed much. But the building itself was smaller, perhaps handier to the house so my aunts would not have such a hill to climb as they did getting to the old store when the cowbell, hanging outside the door, rang to announce the presence of customers (for the store was not open all the time, but just when someone needed its services).
I remember with fondness the time I was allowed to go to Gainesville in my Grandfather’s truck. Garnie Fortenberry was the driver for Grandfather Bud’s trips. My father, J. Marion Dyer, was going on this trip, and wonder of wonders, at age about six, I was allowed to go along, sitting on my father’s lap all the way across Neal Gap, by Cleveland, and on to Gainesville. The trip could be accomplished in a long day, before sunup until sundown, in the truck. Before the opening of this highway (129) in 1925, the trip by wagon over the Logan Turnpike and Tesnatee Gap had consumed a week’s time. But we were now “modern,” with a narrow paved road and in Grandpa’s faithful truck.
I had never ridden over Neal Gap before, nor had I ever been to the city of Gainesville. I was not prepared for how “car sick” I became that morning as the truck rumbled along the mountainous road. Dad told me to close my eyes and not watch the scenery that seemed to be moving as the truck chugged along, loaded with coops of chickens, cases of eggs and other items to trade in Gainesville as Grandfather bought merchandise to replenish his store. We stopped a couple of times along the way at homes of people my Grandfather knew. At Ravan’s on the south side of Neal Gap, and at another house south of Cleveland.
I shall never forget that day in Gainesville. While Grandfather and Garnie went to Parks Wholesale and other dealerships around Gainesville, my dad “showed” me the town. He took me to see my first-ever moving picture show. It was a western, the title of which I can’t recall. I thought the horses on the screen were going to come right out and run over us as we sat in the theater. Then we went to Woolworth’s “Five and Dime” store on the square. There we ate at the lunch counter, where I got my first taste of Coca Cola (I didn’t like it then!) and a toasted ham and cheese sandwich. Dad let me shop, limiting my purchases to $1, from the laden counters of Woolworth’s treasures. From the small amount of my allowance, quite a bit in 1936, I purchased a locked diary and pen for myself and a small toy car for my little brother, Bluford. When he got a little bigger, we could also both play with the set of pick-up-sticks that finished out my purchases.
This trip was near Christmas, and Grandfather had remembered to buy some simple toys like China dolls and Chinese checker sets which the country folk could buy for holiday gifts. He also found a variety of hard candies for his glassed-in candy counter in the new store. There were also bags of oranges and mixed nuts which he would sell for Christmas treats.
It did not seem to matter at all to the children of Choestoe community when they awoke on Christmas morning to find their stockings containing an orange from the Collins country store and nuts like pecans and English walnuts not grown in the woods near their homes. Somehow, Santa had been helped along with his magical bag by stopping at the country store to replenish his gifts.
Overabundance was not a concept we knew in those days. But the necessities of life were somehow available, thanks to the efforts of persons like Grandpa “Bud” Collins who ran a country store. With the gifts received, we felt a deep appreciation and a sense of wonder and surprise. Little was much when love was in it.
May your Christmas be filled with joy transcendent and may 2007 bring you renewed hope.
c 2006 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published Dec. 21, 2006 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.