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Set a Spell at Grandpa’s Country Store

Growing up on a huge farm in the middle of Nowhere -- 12 long miles from a Somewhere called Sanford and four miles from a no-stoplight town known as Broadway -- I figured out early that Grandpa's country store was the social center of Buckhorn community. On chilly days and nights local folks would hang out around Grandpa's potbellied stove to catch up on the latest gossip. On summer evenings farmers "set a spell" outside and compared tobacco prices and crop yields while wives shelled peas for tomorrow's supper.

There were off-color jokes, funny stories, character portrayals, and sometimes tragic news...all told with fervor and passion. Farmers, wives and "younguns" came nightly to the community waterhole for thirst-quenching -- only "dranks" mind you, ranging from Coca-Cola & Pepsi to RC cola, chocolate-flavored soda & Nehi. Buying a nickel "drank" from the icebox was admission to the best show in the neighborhood -- taking part in the real life daily drama series at the country store.

A few folks bragged about white lightning and homemade wine, but public partakings were few and far between. Sometimes I'd see Grandpa go quietlike behind the long counter -- laced with hoop cheese, two-for-a-penny cookies and one-cent pieces of candy in big jars -- and take a nip from an unlabeled bottle, but we'll talk about that later.

Upon entering the store customers were drawn to mouth-watering favorites like vanilla cookies, peppermint sticks, and peanut brittle squares, but then there was the gag-a-maggot item, pickled pig's feet. Ugh! The shelves held staples like pork 'n' beans, vienna sausages, sardines, and crackers. Heaven forbid anyone who tried to eat sardines in the sanctuary of the store 'cause Grandpa would say "get those stinkin' thangs out of here." The back area hosted a rack containing white loaf bread, honey buns, oatmeal cream pies,moon pies, and of course, nabs, a staple in every farm worker's diet.

A main feature of the store was tobacco -- rows of cigarette cartons, packages of chewing varieties, and cans of snuff. Anyone was welcome to contribute to the large can that once held peaches but now served as a spittoon. Ping! Ping! --the sound of gushing spit could not be mistaken. Chink! Chink! -- one could hear as checkers were snapped on top of one another. The aroma of slightly burned coffee wafting through the air was all-too-familiar when the old potbellied stove was fired up.

Anything could become a tall tale at Grandpa's country store where local yokels, "drank" salesmen and cracker carriers gathered daily to "set a spell." It didn't matter that bread and milk and gas cost twice as much at Lett's Grocery and Filling Station as it did at the A & P uptown. This unofficial country club offered personal advantages that competitors couldn't match -- here you could learn everything from who picked a mess of beans that day to who was messin' around with whom.

Nothing was too trivial to talk about...and no one was spared the threat of gossip. The key was to keep your nose clean and your drawers on -- and, of course, go to church every Sunday -- if you wanted to escape the wrath of wagging tongues. Anybody who broke the Ten Commandments could be "pert-near" burned at the stake on winter days by the potbellied stove. Many a stone was thrown at sinners on summer evenings a few yards from the store's shelter where people kept their distance from the bugs seeking the light.

This was before bug zappers, mind you. Oh, to be a fly on the wall or should I say, a bug near the bulb!

Grandpa was fondly called "Captain Puzie" and commanded respect and admiration with his captivating personality, tall stature, and big-brimmed hat. He was a handsome devil...a favorite with the ladies and the not-so-ladylike suitors who thought he had deep pockets. People were always trying to fix Grandpa up with a new Mrs. since "Miss Verta," my grandmother, died in 1952.

One day John Henry Jackson, the Dr. Pepper salesman, brought the "dranks" to the store and was really excited because he had finally found Grandpa the perfect mate. This guy bragged about a wonderful widowed woman and then pointed out that she, too, owned a country store.

He said to Grandpa, "You're going to love this woman because she's a lot like you. Her name is Mert Moore."

Without batting an eye Grandpa shot back, "Yes, I do love her...she's my sister."

Oh well...so much for match-making Grandpa. The life and times at Lett's Grocery and Filling Station offered entertainment in the days before radio and television and continued to do so even after the talking box and "boob tube" started stealing people's brains..."tools of the devil," as Grandpa would say. The station WGCS (Grandpa's Country Store) signal came in loud and clear "pert-near" 16 hours every day from sunup to bedtime.

The colorful characters in the Buckhorn community were just as interesting as any film star, soap opera idol or TV headliner. For example, before I Love Lucy, there was a neighbor named Penny Wellington, famous for her flaming red hair and weird sense of humor. She talked funny and acted crazy...some say she was not playing with a full deck.

One day Penny came into the store wearing miss-matched clothes as usual, carrying a six-pack of empty soda bottles, and babbling on and on about nothing that made any sense. Suddenly she yelled, "Captain Puzie, whatcha want me to do with these here 'drank' bottles?"

Grandpa said, "Just throw'em over in the corner."

So she did.

It took a long time to pick up all that glass.

The country store is closed now, and Grandpa is long gone, but the stories live on. So pull up a chair, and "set a spell"...

(This is the first chapter of the book A Timeless Place: Lett's Set a Spell at the Country Store, written by AlexSandra "Sandy Lynn" Lett.)

© copyright 2002  AlexSandra Lett, All Rights Reserved

AlexSandra "Sandy Lynn" Lett
Southern Books & Talks
1996 Buckhorn Road
Sanford, NC 27330-9782 USA

Telephone: 919-258-9299
Email: LettsSetaSpell@aol.com
World Wide Web: http://www.atimelessplace.com


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© 2008 AlexSandra Lett, All Rights Reserved