Herman Melville claimed that “life aboard a ship” was his “Harvard and Yale.” Although I spent many years either studying or teaching at Auburn University, I understand what Melville meant because growing up in a country grocery store in Russell County was an essential part of my education.
Daddy re-opened what had been his grandparents’ store in 1960, when I was in first grade. By the time he retired from the store business, he had two rural grocery stores.
One of our stores was a stopping point every other Friday for the Russell County Book Mobile. Neighbors gathered in front of the store to check out books, and the ladies that drove the rolling library were kind enough to accommodate when I called ahead and asked them to bring specific titles I was interested in. The first time I read To Kill a Mockingbird, the book was from the library in Phenix City.
Other warm memories include the candy truck that brought Beatle bubblegum cards and trays of cheap rhinestone rings, and the boys working for the state that played cards while they ate lunch with us.
For a few years we had a piano in the back of the store, and various customers or salesmen would entertain whoever was around with music and song. Ever so often, we hosted potluck lunches in that back room that rivaled any commercial buffet.
But my favorite memories of our stores revolve around Christmas.
Dolls and tea sets and toy cars and trucks with sirens started arriving in late November. Wind-up clowns and puppies that did backflips, along with battery-operated dancing bears, soon followed. I still have the chimpanzee that plays cymbals and bugs his eyes out, and a little plastic monkey with tiny cigarettes that make smoke rings.
The drink companies provided calendars and signs, some of which were lighted, or had beautiful winter scenery and holiday wishes printed on them. The milkman brought eggnog, and Daddy played Christmas music on the cassette player all day long.
By the time Daddy and Mama shut the doors forever on the stores that paid for my “formal education,” it was no longer safe to run a store from before daybreak until after dark, especially in a rural area. I was relieved to see my parents close the businesses, but I treasure the friends and memories we made there, and the lessons in life I learned.
Marian Carcache welcomes
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