Memories of Old Country Stores

Someone posted a photo of an old country store on Facebook that reminded me of two stores that you just don’t find many of anymore. They are the old wood frame buildings with a wooden screen door. I guess if I ran across one these days, I’d probably feel like I was in a movie.

The last one I remember was in the 1990’s. We had hiked a trail in the Big Thicket called The Woodlands Trail. On our way home we stopped at a little store in a small community by the name of Dallardsville, if I remember correctly. It felt like we were sharing our childhood with our three sons as we went up to the door and went inside to get sodas and snacks. I usually got a root beer after hiking the Thicket.

The other store was in a tiny town by the name of Fred. If Fred wasn’t on a hill you could probably see the back of the sign that says ‘Fred’ on the southbound side of the highway while at the same time, standing next to the sign that says ‘Fred’ on the northbound side. I loved going to the store in Fred to get the Sunday paper when my grandparents lived up that way back in the late 60’s and on into the mid-70’s.

This was a really cool old store. Of course, the floor was made of wide wooden planks. The owners had a cat that hung out inside the store, just like it was a normal thing. I guess it was. There were comfortable chairs up front, close to the counter so that customers who were of a mind to could sit and visit with the owners while the cat listened in. Several of my friends have heard me tell of the day I went there with my grandma and we sat in those chairs and shared a bag of pork rinds while she visited. I can’t hardly eat pork rinds now without thinking of that little store in Fred with the comfortable chairs, the wooden floors and the cat.

You know, next time I head up that way I think I’ll see if that store is still there and stop by for a visit. I’ll have to get some pork rinds while I’m there.

What Was Happening At My House On June 11, 1960

So, 55 years ago today, as if there wasn’t enough excitement already, I was riding my tricycle around in our house. The rooms made a loop from living room, kitchen, bedroom, hallway, bedroom and back to living room. It was like a race track. Howcome a 3 1/3 year old kid was riding a trike in the house? What was all the excitement about? Why was my grandma there and my parents leaving? Because they were going to the hospital to get my new baby brother that God had delivered to the hospital for us. Yep. That’s the only thing I would believe. My mom told me there was a baby growing in her swelling tummy and I just didn’t believe it. I had no problem believing God could just bring a baby from heaven or someplace and leave it at a hospital. Oh, and I knew it was a brother. They told me it could be a sister, but I knew that was wrong, too.

Memories and Reality

This evening, I watched an episode of The Twilight Zone. The main character, Horace, had idealized memories of his childhood and he wanted to go back to his old neighborhood.  He did, and his experience was like quantum physics where time goes all warpy. Everything looked the same, the same people were there, and they were all the ages that he was when he lived there. Of course, his wife thought he was cracking up, even though she was a bit freaked out by the kid from the neighborhood who kept showing up at their apartment every time Horace went there.

Have you ever felt like you could, in your mind, go back in time? We know the memories are in there, complete with smells and sounds and emotions.  What if we could access them? We could smell our grandma’s perfume (mine used Avon, one of her favorites was Cotillion), and a favorite meal (one of mine was her fried chicken, corn on the cob and green beans with potatoes).

Maybe it has something to do with living in the 50th decade of my life, but there are times that I almost feel like I could just dig these places out of my brain and experience them all over again. I can almost smell the Pine O Pine that my mom mopped the floors with, along with the Pledge that she used to polish the furniture. If you just add in the cookies and the pine tree in the living room, it’s Christmas in 1966.

I know the memories of conversations that I heard have to be in my mind somewhere. If I could pull this stuff up from the memory files, I’d see myself on the floor playing with dominoes, lining them up and making them all fall while I listened to the adults talk, and I’d actually hear the whole conversation.

I don’t have an idealized concept of my childhood like Horace had in The Twilight Zone, and I wouldn’t want to go back and be a kid again. I’m happy with my life in the here and now. But do you ever wonder what it would be like to pull those memories up to the level of feeling like you are there again?

Well, it’s after midnight and I need to hit the sack. I wonder what I might dream about tonight?

Things I Remember About Dolly Parton

I read an interview with Dolly Parton earlier today and found out she is 65 years old. I remember her on The Porter Wagoner Show. (I remember that show when it first came on TV. I was four years old.) She was only about 20 years old when she joined the show in 1966. I guess I was about 10 or 12 when The Porter Wagoner Show came to town and we went to see it. Minnie Pearl was there, and Dolly Parton, and Porter Wagoner, of course, in a suit that could blind someone, it was so flashy. My favorite song of hers has always been “Coat of Many Colors.”

Dolly Parton must have what they call “staying power,” I guess. Remember the movie,  Nine to Five, with Dolly Parton, Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda? We took our oldest son to that movie when he was almost three years old. Not that we thought he would like it especially, we just didn’t have a baby sitter and he was a good kid. He made it OK through the first hour and a half or so, then he started fidgeting. He was in and out of his seat and squirming around. He kept standing up and flipping the seat up and down. I kept whispering to him to be still and be quiet. I told him he was making it difficult for the people behind us to enjoy the movie. Finally, in an angry sounding whisper, I asked him, “Do you want me to take you out of here?” Of course, he said, “Yes!” and the people behind us cracked up. So, I guess that movie would probably be his earliest memory of Dolly Parton.

I don’t know what my other two sons’ earliest memories of Dolly Parton are, but I know they were very aware of a certain aspect of her in a way that little boys are when they were about six and seven years old. We were on vacation with my parents and these two little clowns came in our room to “show us something.” They squatted down with their knees up by their chests and pulled their t-shirts over their legs. Then they alternated their feet, up and down, up and down, which made their knees look like…uh,…well, you know. They said they were Dolly Parton.

Sixty-five years old. She said (this was in Parade Magazine) that if she “sees something sagging, dragging, or bagging, I’ll have it nipped and tucked.” She said people will tell her she looks so happy and she tells them it’s Botox. Well, I think a good sense of humor keeps us young on the inside, so I reckon she’s still a youngster.


I Wasn’t Exactly a Girly-Girl

I was just looking at an article in a newspaper about a local festival. There were lots of photos of the Court. You know, all the young ladies on down to small children. They are all female and their titles range from Queen to Princess to Duchess to Little Miss with a few others as well. I’m sure these young ladies are having a blast doing this. As I skimmed over the hobbies and activities of the very young (three and four years old) I thought of what I was doing at that age. It wasn’t ballet or swimming or gymnastics. At least not in any organized sense.

My mom once took a photo of me on my way down from the top of a pine tree when I was four. The tree was at least 20 feet tall. I had a little friend who lived a couple of houses down who showed me how to climb that tree. After mastering the pine tree, there wasn’t hardly a tree I wouldn’t try. I even walked the fence then jumped off and grabbed a limb and swung up into a crepe myrtle tree when I was about nine years old. I missed once and knocked my breath out but, oh, well. Stuff like that happens when you do the things I did. At least I never fell out of the pine tree.

Another thing I did when I was playing with my little friend was make the tire swing that my Dad made for me, go in a big wide circle and grab onto the barbed wire fence and make it stop. Of course, you have to be sure and grab between the barbs. I missed once. I still have scars.

So far, my activities wouldn’t look so great in a newspaper article about a Little Miss. What else did I do at that age?

Oh, yeah. I baptized kittens. My grandma’s cat had a litter of kittens. I got a bucket of water ready and told them about Jesus and asked them if they wanted to go to heaven. They all did. And they all did, too. My grandma was so upset! And oh, my poor aunt. I bet she wanted to baptize me.

But you know what? I was on a court once. Most likely no one knew of my previous not-so-ladylike behavior. I was in the first grade and we were having some kind of school festival and pageant. In preparation, the two first grade teachers kept getting boys and girls to stand next to each other. They were looking for a suitable prince and princess. I got to be a princess because I was an inch or two shorter than the boy they stood me next to.  It must have been pretty important that the heights be just right because it seems like they took forever calling up one or the other child until they got a match.

I can’t say it was the most fun I ever had, but it is funny to look back on. When we were rehearsing I was told to go up the walkway to the stage and bow. I did. Like a man. They laughed and showed me how to curtsy. I had to do it several times. Then the night of the pageant brought more laughter. As Princess of the First Grade, I had on my white dress with white socks and shoes, white gloves, seems like I had some kind of little white hat on my head and a matching white bandage on my knee. My mom could not convince me that the white bandage that covered my knee would be more conspicuous than the skinned knee. I don’t remember if it was my right knee or my left, but if it was my right knee, I still have that scar, too.

This Three-Year-Old Wasn’t Stupid!

When I think of what I believed and what I didn’t when I was little, it’s just weird. Kids are funny.

When I was three, my mom was expecting a baby. Her belly was getting big. I asked where they would get my baby brother.  My mom told me we didn’t know if it was a boy or a girl, but it was growing in her belly.  As she was trying to convince me,  I looked up at her belly, shook my head and said, “Nuh, uh.”  There was no way I would believe there was a baby in there. She had to tell me that God brings the babies to the hospital, and the parents go get the one He brought for them. I had no problem with that. “I want a boy, ‘cuz I want a brother,” I said. My mom said we have to take what God gives us. He gave us a boy.

Then there was the time I was staying overnight with my grandparents. Mema was at the sink in the bathroom doing something that required running water. Her hands were in the sink, but I could tell she wasn’t washing them. I was no more than three years old and couldn’t see what she was doing, and being the ever-curious kid that I was, I asked, “Whatcha’ doin’?” She told me she was brushing her teeth. I said, “Nuh, uh.” She said yes, she was. I didn’t believe her so she told me to come look. I stood on my tiptoes and peered over the edge of the sink. OH, NO!!! She was holding TEETH in her hands! I screamed bloody murder and ran out of the bathroom! I didn’t keep my back turned though. I stopped in the next room and stood facing the door totally terrified and crying. She was a large woman and when she laughed her whole belly shook. And shake it did, because she couldn’t help laughing at my reaction to her handful of teeth. She also couldn’t get me to come near her for quite a while.

One thing I believed was something I think my mom regretted telling me. I was a night owl and I was only three or four years old. My mom put me to bed at 7 pm. (I remember my bedtime because when my older cousin came to spend the night once, we negotiated a later bedtime.) I would still be awake when my parents were going to bed. My mom would check on me and see me wide awake, so one night she decided to tell me something that she thought would motivate me to go to sleep.

She told me I had to go to sleep because the Sandman won’t come until I do. The what? The Sandman? Who’s that?, I wanted to know. She said he walks from house to house at night putting sand on the eyes of sleeping people, but you have to be asleep or he won’t come.

Well, now. I wanted to see this fellow. I thought I’d pretend to be asleep when he came, but I needed to know when he was coming so I could be ready. I figured he probably looked a lot like Mr. Green Jeans on Captain Kangaroo. He would be wearing overalls and a hat and carrying a bucket of sand. That night when my mom was checking on me, she poked her head in my room and saw me on my bed but with my face in the window. Through clenched teeth (my poor mom!) she said, “What are you doing still awake?!” I said, “I’m watching for the Sandman.” She didn’t laugh, but if she told Mema, I bet Mema laughed.

Trying Too Hard to Be Cool

I have a friend who said he saw a red Dodge Viper today with a vanity plate boasting of the 750 Horsepower engine under the hood, and it had a racing stripe to boot. My friend said of the owner, “he’s sure the cops ignore the taunt.” Yeah, I bet they do, too. This reminds me of something that happened when I was in high school, back in 1973 or ’74.

There was this guy who sat in front of me in Spanish class who wanted so much to be cool. He needed to just be himself, but sometimes teenagers aren’t so good at that. One day the two guys who sat on either side of him kept saying to him, “Vroom, vroom.”  It was getting to him and I didn’t know what that was all about so I asked one of the guys.

Seems in this boy’s efforts to fit in, he got a little careless out on 11th Street the previous weekend. Eleventh Street was where we hung out on Friday and Saturday nights, just cruising up and down the street, guys looking at girls and girls looking at guys, and plenty of flirting and engine gunning at the red lights. The street is four lanes so two guys at a red light would rev up their engines to challenge each other to a little race sometimes.

Our classmate was stopped at a red light when he saw a car pull up next to him. Without turning his head to the side to see who it was – he was trying too hard to be cool – he revved his engine and got a reply. He did it again and got another. I don’t know how many times they did that, but by the time the light changed I’m sure his adrenaline was soaring and he figured he just shot himself up to the top of the Cool Chart. The light changed and he floored it and was promptly pulled over. He had just challenged a police officer in a cruiser to a race.

It’s a long way back to being anywhere near cool after such a show as that.