Capture A Country Store Christmas Feeling
Signing back-road books at Mast General has become a tradition. For four Christmases now, I’ve signed books at Columbia’s Mast General. This Christmas makes five. This store, rich with memories, is down on Main Street, as Bob Seger sang.
The floor squeaks as folks walk the aisles seeking that special gift for family and friends. Colorful barrels of candy delight children and more than a few adults. As Arlo Guthrie sang, you can find most anything you want. Christmas music fills the air.
More than a few people share tales of Christmas along the back roads as I sign books. During idle moments, I sit, watch, and listen. And remember. I recall trips to a country store as one of childhood’s great joys come Christmas. Storeowners were generous with their candies and cookies.
In the south end of my home county of Lincoln county, Georgia, Price’s Store stood at the intersection of two back roads. Dusty bulbs hung from the ceiling and their light was weak. Once my eyes adjusted, I’d see crates of drinks stacked high. The “Coke” vat held chunks of ice. My hand would go numb as I fished around getting a Coke from the bottom.
I recall farmers sat on benches flanking the front door. They died off and the people who owned these venerable establishments joined them. Thus did time doom their old stores. The tin roof on Price’s Store went bad and no one bothered to repair it. Price’s Store lives on in my memories as it does for others blessed to have walked through its door.
Up in the northern end of Lincoln County, my grandfather, C.B. Walker, ran a country store on Georgia Highway 79. Half-gallon jars with red lids held cookies as big as your hand. Of course he had an old vat filled with ice from which people pulled out Cokes, RC Colas, and other drinks of the day. He sold penny candies like Mary Janes and assorted other candies that glittered like jewels. Add to that coconut candy with stripes of pink, white, and chocolate. I can’t recall what the exact flavors were but we loved ’em.
A wooden drawer held money. A vintage Ford’s chrome greyhound hood ornament pressed dollar bills in place. I recall no cash register. Most of the year he could be tight but Christmas brought free cookies my way. Granddad’s store still stands but it’s been converted to a deer hunters’ camp. One fall afternoon hunters asked me if I’d like to go inside granddad’s store. I made the mistake of going inside. Nothing like I remembered.
It’s rare to see a true country store anymore. Changing times and major highways put them on the endangered species list and weeds, kudzu, and pines advance through and over their empty shells … if they stand at all. I can show you where many a country store stood, but you won’t see the store. Burned to the ground. A few country stores I know of were relocated and repurposed. At least they survived.
Here it is Christmas and what child of the South doesn’t remember country stores with happiness, especially at Christmas when potbellied stoves blazed and candy and cookies seemed especially sweet and free. And so, I feel sorry for today’s youngsters who miss out on a trip to a general store. All is not lost, however. If you want your grandchildren to experience a bit of what a country store was like come Christmas, take them to Mast General. They’ll see wares ranging from pocketknives to melody harps, and horseshoe sets. They’ll see what we used to call penny candy. They’ll see toys such as little red wagons too.
And you, as you walk those squeaky floors, you’ll see something too. You’ll see happy people and smiles aplenty, and if you’re of a certain age, a flood of memories will bring welcome sights from the past your way.
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