Saturday, May 7, 2016

The General Store

Ok, so I had no idea it had been so long since I had written you a story. None at all. I thought I had missed maybe 2 or 3, but not this long. I apologize for that and will do my best to keep up better. It is a busy time when what feels like one month is actually three. Woops.

I am on a roll. My guitar body is glued together, I am halfway through securing binding onto its sides. While I pull strips of tape from the industrial dispenser, nicking my knuckles on its angry serrated edge in the process, I am planning what I need to do next. Around 11:45am, my dad walks into the shop and says, "I want some breakfast. Want to go to Sarah's?" I check the time and while I have been working for several hours, my breakfast having been consumed at breakfast time, I say yes. I stop what I am working on and go.

I used to say no thanks when my dad asked me to accompany him to get breakfast at his favorite local general store because I didn't want to eat at that odd time between breakfast and lunch. I now understand he goes for so much more than just breakfast. Fox Creek Trading Post has been in operation for generations and one of the things I love about it is that, like Rugby itself, not much has changed. The shelves lining the walls that reach all the way to the ceiling are still piled with goods, clothing, and toys. I found a doll dressed as a nun, some dusty cigar boxes on a top shelf and a sign advertising shoe polish among the dishes, aprons and canned goods lining the dining area in the back of the store. Sarah Teitelbaum runs the old store and while she isn't originally from here, which is typically comparable to sporting a scarlet A in the eyes of locals, she has made herself a spot in the history of this tiny pocket of VA. It doesn't hurt that she's "good lookin'" (my dad says) and that she treats everyone who comes through her door as though they are the most important person in the county, but she has created a gathering place where folks can congregate and hear the scuttlebutt. I love that like generations before us, we still crave that sense of community and we are still fiercely protective of it.


Cigar boxes on the shelves of Fox Creek Trading Post
I remember when I was young Vivian Osborne ran the local store. My Great Uncle Cone, a man who had one of the most wrinkled faces I had ever seen, would sit quietly by the window closest to the wood stove and smoke most of the day away. He and his cronies would gather in the back of the store every morning for coffee and then the guys with jobs would leave only to return as soon as they were finished for a game of Rook or checkers. "My dad used to love to come in here. Every day after he got the farming and drove the school bus, he would come in here and play cards with his friends," my dad told me once. I remember being somewhat frightened of the posse of old men, thinking that their dealings were secret and probably important so I best keep my distance.

Old and new.
When my dad and I walked in to Vivian's, he would ceremoniously present me with one dollar to spend in the store. While he opened his wallet he would always tell me how he had never seen a dollar at my age and then would proceed to point out all the things he could have purchased with a dime. I always wanted a scratch off lottery ticket and my dad would make a big show of saying I was too young and there was no way Vivian would sell me one. While my dad chatted with his neighbors, I would tentatively approach the counter, which obscured my view of what was hidden behind it as it rose to exactly my eye level. The scratched laminated pad sitting atop the counter advertising the tobacco products offered, yellowed with age, curled up at the edges closes to me. Vivian would wait patiently for me to make ask her for a lottery ticket. Eventually I would and she would allow me to choose which one I wanted, usually the most colorful one. I would walk away ecstatic, as though I had gotten away with something, though in hindsight, she probably had a standing arrangement with my dad. He would give me a penny to scratch with, but I never used it, opting for my fingernail instead. It was so much more satisfying, scratching that shiny later away to reveal the prize underneath.

When my dad was young Vivian's husband Van Osborne ran the store. He said it was just the same as when I was growing up, the old men sitting around playing checkers and cards, discussing things like price you could get for tobacco and how high the price for chicken feed had risen. Last night when my dad and I sat by ourselves in his shop I asked him what he remembered about the store when he was  young. He said, "When I was young you couldn't go anywhere else but the store because driving to town was reserved for special occasions. You could get whatever you needed there. People would even come in and ask for haircuts. Van would gesture to the barber chair he had sitting in the back room and he would cut their hair. Once a man named Brack Davis, probably some kin to us, walked in and pointed to his tooth. Didn't say anything, not that I heard anyway. Van gestured to the barber chair and Brack walked over and sat down. Van took a pair of pliers and yanked that tooth out! You never saw so much blood. Brack spit a few times into the coal bucket, said thank you to Van, settled up, and left. That was when that store was in the building where my old shop used to be. Another thing folks used to do was have shooting matches. They would get a circle of cardboard and draw lines facing out like spokes on a wheel and attach it to the wall with a nail. Everyone would write their names on the wheel and then someone would spin it so fast the names would blur. Then someone would shoot at the spinning wheel and whoever's name it hit got the pot. Uncle Cone told me that during wartime when there weren't any bullets to shoot and the guys still wanted to play that game, they would do it with a knife. There's a big ol' hole where the knife blade would hit the wall. It is still there in the wall of my old shop."

Sarah needed a table for her coffee pot,
my dad went home and made her one
We pass a few other little stores on the way out to Sarah's. I think the reason for that is because she not only appreciates that sense of community, she builds and nurtures it. She doesn't mind that a fellow with nothing better to do comes in every morning and sits by the counter all day buying nothing but coffee. She is happy to oblige all of our requests from breakfast at noon to a sandwich on her menu that, without prompting, she always remembers exactly how I like it. Guys come in on their lunch break and she offers them the chicken and dumplings she just made from scratch, the barbecue she smokes herself, or a fresh sandwich.

When I asked Sarah about running that store she said, "I love that this store has stood here and served this community for so many generations. Jerry, the guy who drives the school bus came in recently and told me that he bought his first suit in this store with his grandfather in 1945. The other day I found a dusty old ledger on one of the top shelves and I found where he had bought that suit for $15. Now his grandkids come in here. How many generations is that? 6? I think that is just great." It is obvious she isn't in this for profit, though I'm sure she must make some given how many folks she serves every day. She puts thought and love into her cooking and provides excellent service. Those are two things that are greatly lacking around here now that our grandmother's have passed on. Now if you own a freezer and a deep fryer, you're in business. I think most everyone can see how hard she works to serve the community before she serves herself and thats a big reason why, in the time of high mobility, we prefer to drive a bit farther to see her and her helper Judy, her daughter Allyson as well as her parents who live down the street from the store. I hope that one day I will be able to bring my kids in there and present them with some money while telling them what I could buy with the dollar my dad used to give me. It was always worth so much more than the monetary value.

The general loafers.







4 comments:

  1. Thanks! I enjoyed the story. I had the pleasure of meeting Wayne last year in Galax.

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  2. The cabin we stay at for the festival in just up the road from the store. They treat us like we are part of the community. Awesome folks!

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  3. The cabin we stay at for the festival in just up the road from the store. They treat us like we are part of the community. Awesome folks!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Should you grow tired of crafting strings, you have all of the makings of a fine author. Fine work, JW

    ReplyDelete