Saturday, May 3, 2008

Old Grocery Stores

When I was younger, I could remember anything, whether it had happened or not. - Mark Twain

I love posts with photographs of older things. Things that have passed from common usage, but things I saw as a child. It's hard to separate reality from "filtered reality" when dealing with memories from childhood. What we didn't know as children caused us to see the world in those innocent eyes of a child. The harsh reality of living for many years and knowing too much can also color what we see. Knowing this to be true, I still like my childhood remembrances. I loved old grocery stores. They had brightly colored metal signs attached to the outside walls and doors advertising a variety of products to be found inside. In the country many had screen doors with bread advertisements on the door cross members. Outside you usually found a cold drink box of some sort with iced or refrigerated drinks. Some had gasoline pumps out front. The clerks, usually the owners and their family members, were know by everyone in the community. Conversly, the store owners knew just about everyone who came in. I had a friend whose family owned a small grocery in the small southern town where I grew up. His dad and mom manned the cash register, his uncle Jake was the butcher, and my friend stocked the shelves and made deliveries. Mr. Emmit knew all the neighborhood kids. There was a big metal filing box with metal pages covered with spring hinged clamps for holding charge slips. If you wanted a popcicle, and he knew your parents wouldn't mind, he would fill out a charge slip with your purchase on it and place it with the rest of your family's charges. On payday, folks would come by and take care of the weekly, or monthly charges. You could also call in your order if you didn't have a car, were elderly, or if you couldn't leave your children to come to the store, and your groceries would be delivered to your door.
Some country stores had delivery trucks that carried candy, other goodies for children, staples, cigarettes and tobacco products to be sold as they made their deliveries. They brought grocery orders, and took new written orders from folks who didn't have phones. I still love to find old country stores and go in just to try and re-live the sights and smells. I went to the mall yesterday and saw there the antithesis of the friendly merchants of yesteryear. I wanted to look for a new cell phone (O.K., I have one, but I use it responsibly). I approached the kiosk with all the phones displayed around the outside, and stood as the sole customer and waited as two young surly ladies texted their friends and ignored their duties as clerks. Finally, one of them looked at me and let out a big sigh as she dropped her shoulders and sloughed toward me. The other one, obviously the senior representative, never looked up. She got about half way to me, and in a whining voice said, "Can I help you?" I told her I didn't want to disturb her text-a-thon, but if she could break off for a few minutes, I would like to ask her about some of the new phones and features. It went downhill from there and I still have the old phone I came in with. I wanted so badly to see a smile and some friendliness. Maybe even an eagerness to try and make a sale. But, alas all I have is memories. I know life in the South had its problems back then, but I do believe the majority of the people I knew were very sincere in their friendliness and hospitality. Many folks who grew up in that era, still retain an attitude of genuine hospitality today. It has become a rare commodity in many parts of the country, so some who encounter it can't believe it's real. However, I have found people from all over the world who have managed to hang on to a friendly, open attitude to strangers even though the world attitude is fighting it tooth and nail. They are becoming harder to find. I dream of returning to a time when a hand shake, or a charge slip without a signature is the norm. A friendly place where people smile at your arrival, and genuinely try and help you make a purchase. I grew up in such a place and I wrote an acrostic poem to capture some of my impressions.


Mighty river, wide, winding,
Indians found you long ago.
Southward moving,
Sultry, steamy,
Into lives, into dreams.
Smell of honeysuckle blooming,
Soft pine breezes, southern drawls.
Ivy, Kudzu, trees entwining,
Pastoral vistas,
Pleasant people,
I will ever hear your call.