Here is another one from the in-process fourth Notes book. This one is about my Dad’s family’s grocery store in Valley View, Texas.
My dad’s family had a little grocery store on Valley view’s town square. My granddad Clem Turner was the butcher and my grandmother Leta Bell ran the front and the cash register. There was another grocer across the square, their competition Sloan’s. Theirs was called simply Turner Grocery; it was on the east side of the square by the Church Of Christ which we attended and Buzzy’s Pool Hall where my dad was a pool shark in his younger days so they say.
When you went inside the store it was organized with usual aisles and the butcher counter was in the back. Clem was back there in a white apron and wearing one of those white paper hats to trap his hair. Since he did not have much hair when I around I am not sure what the point of that was except it was a habit. The hat was ALWAYS one with “Mrs. Baird’s Bread” on it; there is a picture of him with one on.
Up front was the register and my favorite part of store – the toy rack. Do you remember in the old days a little grocery having a rack of little plastic army men, trucks, dolls sets, and maybe some plastic models? If so picture that and that is what was there. I can recall my dad getting a model for me and gluing it together or getting a bag of army men to play with out in the dirt someplace. In that time, a little hunk of plastic made a child smile and occupied them for hours. No smart phone or computer was needed, or around.
At closing time, my grandparents would clean up. They would toss some “red stuff” on the floor and sweep it up. I’ll have to look up what that was one day.
Besides the mercantile portion of the store, the back of the store was really the most intriguing part of the place. The interesting thing was not the boxes of stock there but the fact that there was a table and a gas space heater around which the old men of the town gathered to play dominoes. Picture the town’s grizzled elders squinting at the dominoes under a dim light bulb on a cord surrounded by boxes with the space heater’s red glowing bricks sort of keeping them warm on a cold, winter day. I guess my grandparents were doing some community service by having an unofficial “senior center” before anyone thought of doing such a thing. Or maybe they thought the men might just buy more groceries too. Possibly the latter if I had to bet in a forced choice way.
Sometimes one of my older cousins would work at the store. I remember one Saturday night when we spent the night at the Turner house seeing my cousin Brad Calhoun drinking a quart bottle of Dr. Pepper while we watched TV.
Finally, the Turner family was even then entwined with my mom’s family the Couch’s. Not by blood or marriage but by finances. How? My mom’s dad, TR, who owned the little country bank there – Valley View National Bank – lent Clem and Leta the money to open up the store. While they were not “buddies” they did go hunting or fishing together some which shows how business was done in small towns then. The businesses and the customers were the community as a whole. You had to be honest and good to people since everyone knew everybody else and gossip spread faster than a prairie wildfire on a gusty day. TR was not a saint in some ways but he was always respected as was Clem who apparently had a grouchy side. Later you will see that the two families wound up living across the street from each other on south Lee Street. And of course my mom and dad started dating after that point – it was convenient to have your significant other across the street, but also maybe not with two sets of parents’ eyes looking out the window at you.
Thus as you see families become linked to each other in more than one way in small towns. They do business with each other, they intermarry, and the cycle repeats itself over the generations that are born there, move there, live there, and then are buried in their little cemeteries as much of my family has and is. In our big, diffuse, mobile urban culture we have lost that sense of “oneness” that one place and an extended family being close by once gave us.