I stopped by the feed store the other day. Not the new one down the road with all the pre-packaged bags and nationwide distribution centers, but the old one where the wood floors thick with corn dust still creak under your step, receipts are handwritten and the grain mix of your choice is poured into feedsacks and tied off in a miller’s knot faster than you can follow. The younger kids run off through the aisles looking under pallets and over piles of barley sacks for the calico mama cat that surely is out training her spring kittens how to keep the store free of any intruders as an old farmer sits at the counter casually casting off his morning talking about what needs to be done. I’m grateful that these stores still exist narrowly between yesterday and tomorrow, down the road from the supercenter, just beside where the old train depot used to stand.
When we were young, after an afternoon of baling sticky hot hay in the July sun, we’d stop by the general store by my grandparents’ farm. The one where my papaw would spend most of his mornings sitting on the porch bench swapping stories about mules that could drive themselves home or about an old man he met once that sold peaches by an empty road in Montana. My brother and I would slide out of the red ’78 Ford truck and climb the steps up to the general store screen door, pulling back on the spring just hard enough that it would double bounce behind us. I’d linger a little reaching into the Coke cooler for a bottle trying to take in all the refreshing air I could to keep me cool on the open window drive home. If I was lucky, there’d be a bottle of Big Red instead; a too sweet bit of heaven that landed somewhere between a cherry and bubble gum taste that can only be described as the flavor of “red” that still somehow satisfies on a hot work day.
Downtown shopping with my mother would often include visits to my two favorite general stores. I remember all that was at eye level to an 8 year old; the dusty wood flooring at the Armstrong Hardware store all placed on the diagonal, its bouncy planks weighted down by the center aisle green cabinet filled with packets of garden seed. The smell of tomato plant starts and fertilizer still coming to mind every time I walk into a garden shop. The GC Murphy store would hold treasures of its own with towels and sheets, some garden items, maybe something to wear, some fabric and general goods for the kitchen. I would browse somewhat patiently with my mother, all the while keeping a strong eye on the glass cabinet by the large windowed entrance, hoping that this would be a day where we could stop and get a scoop of hot cashews. The clerk would pour them into a paper sleeve, it’s goodness still so strong in my memory that it’s warm salty taste feels like I just had some for breakfast.
It seems that as I’ve grown older, my inner compass and internal clock are always rattling against each other--decisions about taking the long drive home or learning how to make a decent pie crust from scratch knocks against price and convenience, interstates and country roads, carry-out and the kitchen table. But on those occasions where I let experience and memories win- at the restaurant, the general store or the kitchen sink, it seems that I get to win too. Just a little. Every once in a while making life fuller with the colors and the scenery, the sights, the smells, stopping by the bend-in-the-road general store or getting breakfast served where the one that takes your order also helps make it.
I stopped by the old general store by my grandparent’s place not long ago, its windows long shuttered, the screen door aching to be opened over the grass growing out of the cracks in the concrete. I talked with the 3rd generation owner that wouldn’t see a 4th generation owner. She spoke in her soft 91yr old voice about hoping that maybe a young couple would buy it someday, maybe starting their own family in her old house next door. I hope they do. In the meantime, I’ll search out the experience created by first generation or fifth and sixth generation small business owners everywhere, lingering at the Coke cooler if they have one, and thanking them for the new memories.
A friend of Erin and Ben’s, Lisa still enjoys the stroll to the small-town post office to mail an old-fashioned letter -- while texting in line. She’s a mother of four that works in IT in the corporate world balancing the farmer and maker life, new and old, with her history loving teacher husband, Doug. Follow the family’s side hustle of making furniture, leather and silver goods at www.rr3collective.com or on Instagram @FarmHandMadeCo