Closing of General Store Was the End of an Era

Remembering the good old days and the simple and honest ways of people in small towns.

| Winter 2018

  • An old General Store.
    Illustration by Wayne Stroot
  • People gathered at the grand opening of a new grocery store.
    Illustration by Wayne Stroot

I went to the grocery store yesterday, but that’s not big news. I’m no stranger to grocery stores, but on this occasion, I was transported back in time to Dave Brumfield’s general store in my hometown, in the mid-1950s. Ah, yes … the good old days.

Now before any naysayers get all wound up about the social issues of the time, the myth of the good old days, and the rest of the claptrap relied on to salve consciences, let me say that, in some instances, they are exactly right. To an 8-year-old in my humble village of less than a thousand people, however, social issues meant who your best friend was, and we lived in a different world. There was no daycare, there were parents … and if a kid didn’t have two of ‘em, one of ‘em had died. There was no kindergarten. We spent our first six years at home, being kids, and then we became students. Soccer was something you did to a girl if she wouldn’t leave you alone, and nothing was as pretty as a new baseball. Many of us had jobs before we were 10. In the winter, we ice-skated outside, of all places. In hot weather, we swam in the lake or the river. Summer evenings were spent on the porch, and Friday nights meant watching a free movie in the park.

Back to Dave Brumfield’s general store. Dave was my grandfather’s sister’s husband. The store was on the same lot as their house, at the intersection of their street and Highway 150. The streets didn’t have names, but we knew where everybody lived. The store was small, even to me. Dave stocked things like sugar- and salt-cured hams that hung on strings from nails, lard in buckets, bacon wrapped in burlap, flour in cloth bags, maple syrup in tins that looked like cabins, beef and chickens in tubs of ice, Coca-Cola and 7UP in a water-filled cooler, sugar in paper bags, eggs not in cartons, milk in bottles with 6 inches of cream on top, Barlow pocketknives, Diamond matches, horehound candy, kerosene at 20 cents a gallon, and, once in a while, a catfish or two on ice. Salmon came in cans, a shrimp was somebody little, and nobody would have known what orange roughy was. You could get garden crops in the summer if you were one of the few who didn’t have a garden, canned stuff in the winter, and breakfast cereal year-round – oatmeal or Cream of Wheat if the weather was cold, or Corn Flakes, Rice Krispies, Shredded Wheat, and Wheaties (great for whipping up some quick doughball to go carp fishing) when things were warm.

Dave Brumfield hadn't been in good health since being wounded in World War I, so when word circulated that a new store was coming to our little town, he was grateful to retire. The rest of us didn’t realize his retirement signaled the end of an era, but it did. You see, the new store was something called an IGA Foodliner. None of us knew what that was, but it sounded awesome. Any grocery store with a name like "Foodliner" had to be something pretty special.

They built it close to our church, after tearing down five or six old houses just to make room for the thing. They even put in a parking lot, for goodness' sake! There wasn’t a store in town with a parking lot, and this one even had big ol' tall lights in it. Nothing like this had ever happened before.

Then, one fateful day, it opened. That evening, even though it was within walking distance of home, my granddad drove over. He didn’t want to waste that parking lot.

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