Crossroads Stores

August 22nd, 2009

These are probably things that applied to everyone in my age group. Actually I’m a pre-boomer, having been born before the start of World War II. Didn’t much matter where you were, everything was moving into a totally different world.

In rural Alabama, electric power and all its advantages was still new. Many houses still used coal oil lamps for light, doing without electric power completely. All the while the T.V.A. was generating millions of kilowatts of electricity less than one hundred miles away at a place called Muscle Shoals.

Something else we had was just a bunch of little country stores. Seemed as if there was one at every crossroads. I think the advent of electric power caused them to spring up like mushrooms. Lots of them sold gas. Ten cents a gallon for regular. Hell, I bet there were ten stores in our neighborhood alone. Never was a time that so many people were failing at the same time while attempting the same thing.

Me and my cousins used to just set out walking to see how many of the little stores we could visit in one day. When I say cousins, I’m talking about Uncle Buck’s boys. My Uncle Bill lived near Carbon Hill and the country stores didn’t exist so much in his area.

My Aunt Hattie and Uncle Jim opened a store. It was a nice example of the country store — so poor that the cash was kept in a cigar box and all the sales were figured using a stubby pencil.

My cousin Sue was a sweet girl and often got stuck with watching Aunt Hattie’s store. I always loved being around Sue. She was a joy, to say the least. Anyhow, Sue was watching the store and a bad thunderstorm came up. After a while the power went off, and Sue decided to go to the house. The house and store were different buildings about forty yards apart. Sue decided to use the money box as a shield to keep the rain off her head. She accidentally spilled the contents along the path to the house. She and her mom tried to collect all that had spilled out, a task made worse by the grass along the path between the two buildings. 

Next day Hattie told Lowell and me that we could have all the change we found if we would give her the paper money. We found eight dollars in paper and seventeen dollars in change. l told my mom, and she made us give it all back to Aunt Hattie. Lowell and me figured that would happen, seeing as how our mom and Hattie were sisters. We did wind up with three dollars each, which was better than a sharp stick in the eye.

Having so many little crossroads stores in areas like where we lived created a problem of sorts. Our neighborhood wasn’t just a few square blocks but more like several square miles. All the store owners were neighbors. Hard feelings became pretty evident if you spent money at one and not the other. Shortage of spare spending money and no way to get there meant that we couldn’t patronize every little store. Thankfully, the fact that Aunt Hattie owned one of the stores was our salvation. We were kin sticking together. It was expected. It was tradition.

One of our favorite items from Hattie’s store was the bucket of steak special. The meat processing plant saved all the little bits and pieces. These pieces were put into little paper buckets similar to what Kentucky Fried Chicken uses. Each bucket contained two pounds of steak scraps. If you wanted them you had to order in advance. Mom used to have Hattie get the meat for us. We had no ice box, so I’d have to get up early on Saturday, trot to the store, pick-up the bucket, and then trot back home. Mom would then make us a Saturday morning breakfast. It was a good breakfast and still a good memory.

(This article was also posted at Old Duggy.)

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3 Responses to “Crossroads Stores”

  1. Brian |

    Those stores were still around in the 70s in rural northwest Louisiana. I used to walk the cotton fields with Dad and my Uncle Bennie. After doing weevil counts and getting covered in dew from cotton plants taller than I was, and all of that red clay dust that turned into red mud on my shoes and pants, we would go to one of those crossroads stores. I always got the 16 oz grape NeHi. I’d kill one of those suckers in about a minute or so, and Dad and Uncle Benny would laugh and laugh. If it was after lunch, it was a treat to be able to get one of those orange push-ups, too. Those things were some kind of good.

  2. Tom |

    I grew up in the rural south and remember country stores well. You can still find them in some isolated places, but they’ve pretty much been replaced with 7-11 type convenience stores. My uncle ran a rural bread route for Sunbeam, and I sometimes rode the route with him in his bread truck, visiting these little stores all over the countryside, often miles off the paved highways on gravel roads. I don’t remember any immigrant clerks.

  3. doris |

    We still have one of sorts in our rural area. Still gives credit on a paper pad, still leaves feed outside the door if they will be closed when you arrive, still honest and American, home grown folk running it. All clerks related or friend-kin, they know all their patrons, except the occassional highway passerbys, who are looked at suspiciously by all. I love and have used that store for 25 years. I am hopeful the owner’s kin will stay the same after he departs our world. An American tradition, a true mom and pop store, although mom has passed on.

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