As many already know, From Turkey Creek – A Memoir is a long-term work in progress. It is my childhood memoir of growing up at the most remote, fun, and wacky place in the world: Turkey Creek, in Humphreys County, Tennessee. This is a short, transitional chapter I wrote, which describes the “general stores” that dotted the countryside near Turkey Creek back in the day.
ON COUNTRY STORES
Nearly every dirt road out in the country had a general store. Within an eight-mile radius of Turkey Creek, there was Nolan Sulley Grocery, Thomas Freeland Grocery, George Harris Grocery, Leonard Barnes Grocery, Clyde Rose Grocery, Harold Smith Grocery, Dudley Jones Grocery, and William Covington Grocery. Usually named for their retiree owners, these rural mom-and-pop institutions were the places where good country folk met, talked politics, and engaged in long, serious talks about the lack or overabundance of rain. Women bought what they needed and left; the men stayed and gossiped.
Every general store looked the same. Each was built of cinder blocks and painted white, and every window proudly displayed a neon sign advertising beer. Inside the front door was a counter whereupon sat a cash register that was almost out of ink, a jar of pickled eggs that looked like something from a horror movie, a dirty fly swatter, and a deck of cards. On the floor behind the counter, strategically positioned near the owner’s rickety wooden stool, sat a rusted brass half-gallon spittoon that reeked of month-old tobacco spit. The cleanliness of the area behind the counter gave testament to the owner’s spitting accuracy. An old 12-gauge shotgun with a few notches whittled into its stock sat propped in a corner by the cash register. It was the first thing patrons noticed when they walked through the front door, and the owners liked it that way. Hand-lettered poster board signs, prominently displayed behind the counter, advertised beer and bait prices, sandwich prices, and the names of customers who’d written bad checks in the last 30 years.
Coolers lined the walls. There was always a beer cooler, a soft drink cooler, a milk and egg cooler, and an empty cooler that no longer worked. On sultry days, I liked to stick my head inside of the soft drink cooler and inhale the chilly air; it smelled good. In the store’s back right corner stood a large deli cooler loaded with fresh corned beef, turkey, baloney loaves, and blocks of sharp cheddar cheese, which could be sliced to order and sold by the pound, or made into a fresh sandwich to go. My father insisted that cold beer made the sandwiches taste better.
The opposite rear corner of the store was the owner’s private office, which consisted of a pot-bellied stove, an old recliner missing half of its stuffing, a tobacco pouch, and a droopy old hound dog napping on a mangy blanket. On a standup folding tray in front of the recliner sat a portable black and white TV with a twisted aluminum foil antenna that extended almost to the ceiling. To the right of the chair was a tiny end table that boasted a pencil, an accounting ledger the owner had made with a ruler and said pencil, half a can of warm beer, and a half-eaten bag of stale pork rinds.
Wooden shelves stocked with bread, canned sardines and pork sausages, and baked beans, all sporting faded handwritten price tags, occupied most of the store’s floor space. These rural delicacies sat on the shelves for years without needing restocking. This was because only two percent of the store’s inventory—beer, cigarettes, and baloney—accounted for ninety-eight percent of its business. For fun, I would write my name across the tops of dusty canned goods. A year later, I would rewrite my name in the dust that had covered what I wrote the previous year.
END OF EXCERPT–Thanks for reading!