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Tacoma, Washington, United States

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Grandpa's Store

My father had a phenomenal memory.  It wasn't photographic the way Uncle Dick's was, but he remembered sounds and smells and emotions from his entire life, from claiming to remember being born to every minute of December 7th 1941.  And he wrote it all down.  His memoire could easily be two books, his childhood in the Missouri Ozarks and the WWII and Boeing years; each unique and attractive to different audiences.  It may well be that I divide it thus, but for now, as I put it into a form that may or may not be saleable, I am including his childhood with all his description because it directly influenced events that still lay in the future as he fished, hunted, and, yes, walked miles--sometimes carrying his little brother--to a one room school which he reminded me of occasionally when I complained of the six blocks I had to walk.  My father's memories of a childhood in the Ozarks is of a way of life largely vanished.  I think it is worth preserving.

Original drawing of Grandpa Stanley's store in Bona, MO done by the author in the late 1930s and the basis of a painting done in 1967

The buildings in Bona were shaded by many large trees.  The churchyard in particular had several large maple trees and one huge mulberry between the church and the Todd house.
                Grandpa’s store was a low one-story frame building.  By the side of the dirt road in the edge of the churchyard was the community well from where Grandpa and Grandma had to carry water in buckets.  The town well did not have a pump.  Instead there was a slender well bucket that was let down to the water on a rope over a pulley.  Back in those hills we just did not have much in the way of modern conveniences.
                The front of the store was a concrete porch shaded by a slanted corrugated tin roof.  There were two gasoline pumps at the corner of the porch.  On the store porch there was always a row of empty milk cans that made a handy place for loafers to sit in the summer when it was warm.  In the winter or when it was raining, which it did not do very often back in the days of the great drought, the loafers would sit in the back of the store by the big black pot-bellied coal stove.
                Entering the store through a creaking screen door, you were immediately assailed by a deliciouis mélange of scents.  It was compounded of the heady aromas of tobacco, dried beans, leather, flour, candy, cookies, oil from the compound with which Grandpa swept the wood floor, and so on—even including the scent of the glue on the sticky strips of flypaper that hung at intervals throughout the store.
                That store had everything country folks might need or want crammed into a space that was about forty by sixty feet.  As you came in the front door there was a glass candy case to the left and beyond that a tobacco case with all sorts of smoking and chewing tobacco.  Twists of chewing tobacco hung from the low ceiling above the case and flat tins of snooze, sacks of Bull Durham and Golden Grain, and myriad other items were on the shelves beyond the aisle behind the cases.
                Across from the candy and tobacco cases, fronted by the red Coca Cola cooler, was a long rack of shelves holding a variety of canned goods.  I was particularly fond of the canned Vienna sausages, canned salmon, and the canned oysters that my mother got when she could afford them to make oyster stew. [Having been raised in Missouri herself, as were her parents before her, I have no idea where my grandmother got a taste for or recipe for oyster stew.  Hers were the only oysters I would eat, but by then the family lived in oyster country.]
                At the rear of the store, on the left beyond the patent medicines, was the counter where orders were made up.  It had a big roll of brown wrapping paper on a rack at the end just over the flour barrel and, next to that, a Toledo “Honest Weight” counter scales.  Immediately below were the brown paper bags that Grandpa would snap open with a flourish when he was bagging beans or something for a customer.  Also right under the order counter were bins and kegs of loose product (we call them bulk food foods today) like pinto or navy beans, coffee beans, cornmeal, and I do not remember what all else—each with its special fragrance.
                On the other side of the store to the front was the drygoods section.  There were stacks of blue hickory work shirts and either blue or blue and white striped bib overalls.  There were shelves of bolts or cotton prints for women to use for dresses, aprons, and poke sunbonnets.  There were shoes which were mostly work shoe clodhoppers and a few Sunday oxfords.  When folks wanted fancier clothes and could afford them, they went either to Greenfield, the county sea, twenty miles away to Rubenstien’s or else to Springfield which was about forty miles away.
                Back beyond the clothing and drygoods was the hardware section.  The walls back there were hung with horse and mule collars.  There were always piles of plow points on the floor alongside kegs of horseshoes and horseshoe nails.  There were sledge hammers, axes, all kinds of ash and hickory tool handles, doubletree clevises, singletrees, and all the other stuff that is inclined to break or wear out around a farm.  Most of those things can be found only in museums now.
                The real heart of Grandpa’s store was at the rear of the main part.  That was where the big black pot-bellied cast iron heating stove sat.  Loafers would gather around that coal-fired stove to whittle and talk when it was too cold to sit out on the store porch and do those things.  Grandpa had a place rigged at the end of the canned goods counter near the stove where he nailed together egg cases of white pine while he talked with the loafers.
                By the wall near the stove there was a Toledo floor scales where the live chickens and cans of cream brought in to be traded were weighed.  Just beyond in the corner was a little room that had the coal oil tank and where eggs were candled to see if they were fresh.
                Opposite that little room there was a small glassed-in room that Grandpa had built where he tested the cream for butterfat content.  On the wall beyond the stove by the back door was a big old Regulator pendulum clock tick-tocking away.  That Regulator clock was supposed to also tell the phases of the moon, too, but I don’t believe that part worked.  That did not matter though, as everyone could see the moon and always knew the phase it was in.
                That big old pot-bellied stove was a delight on the cold winter nights.  Loafers would sit around on wooden cases, cream can, or whatever else might be handy including the floor.  In between spitting tobacco juice into the stove they would whittle and talk.  Some of the tales they would tell were downright mind-boggling for a little boy.
                Of course, when I was there, I knew to sit back and be quiet.  In those days children were to be seen but not heard.  We would not dare to intrude in an adult conversation when they were talking about such important things as Politics, Old Times, or whether there is life in the Hereafter.  We kids just listened and if they were not talking about something interesting like Old Times or ghost stories we could always go somewhere else and play.
                I remember two sounds about Grandpa’s store besides the talking of the loafers.  One was the tick-tocking of that Regulator clock and the other was the tap, tap-tap of Grandpa’s all little metal hammer he used to nail new egg cases together.  He had to make a lot of them as the eggs remained in the cases when he took them every week to market in Springfield.  He bought the white pine parts already cut to size and kept a supply of them down in the barn behind the house.
                That straight grain soft pine was just dandy for whittling.  Pieces of it were what the loafers used there around the stove.  After I got big enough to carry my own pocket knife, I whittled lots of boats, airplanes and wooden guns that we made to shoot innertube rubber bands at each other out of the white pine.