Sunday, May 2, 2010

Country Store Remembered

When I was a youngster, LeRoy only had one business - a little general store that operated six days a week. Colton's store was closed on Sunday because Melvin Colton was the one who turned on the heat at the church, and read the Word.

During the week, Melvin Colton and his wife Marlita welcomed every child with a smile. They did not seem to mind the children who stood with nose pressed to glass, trying to decide what to purchase with their pennies. Melvin always seemed to have time to use the little wooden measure to scoop out a penny's worth of Boston Baked Beans - which were reddish brown, and resembled beans baked in molasses, although they did not taste of beans and made a penny go a long, long way. Mr. Colton always wore a striped shirt with a little leather bow tie at the throat.

The trick was to select the candies that filled the tiny, quarter-pound brown paper bags with an eye as to which variety of sweet would last the longest. Mr. Colton would even open a pack of gum to sell you a single stick of Beman's Pepsin or Black Jack, gum we could chew all day long if we kept it quiet. Mom had no patience with popping bubbles or open-mouthed chewing. It is true, the flavor did not last very long, but chewing gum was somehow cool, proof of one's potence in the world.

I liked the little chocolate bears, but they were not so many for a cent, and of Tootsie Rolls, you had but one piece, for chocolate did not figure largely in the varieties of sweets to be had for just one cent.

Marlita Colton was a pale redhead with hair combed exactly the same each day. She only came out into the store if there were more than two or three customers so that no one need to wait while Melvin carved wedges of pungent cheddar cheese from the wheel on the table beside the cash drawer. He wrapped each piece of cheese in white paper tied with red and white cord, which we carefully kept at home in case of need. His wife was a healer of sorts, always ready to fish out a splinter or advise on a poltice to draw out infection when the splinter was not pulled in time.

Collton's store was a marvel of economy, with each shelf stocked to best advantage, but I never quite understood why the Wolverine boots - the only sort of footwear the men wore in that part of the world, were displayed below the mirrored flats where oranges and bananas were arranged, waiting the children who picked up parts of their lunch on their way to school, which was just down the block by the Grange Hall. There were no women's clothing, but you could purchase thread and needles to make your own.

Outside, there was a bench in the shade by the front door to sit upon when it got hot in the summer and had a popsicle of red or blue to paint your tongue and lips with frosty cold. On school days, the bigger boys showed off by pouring salted peanuts into their cola bottles on the theory such a mixture could make you drunk. Girls gossipped about school and friends in town - and who had a bra already.

Colton's store had the only gas pumps in the village, and everyone pumped his own gas and went inside to report the amount and settle up. There was rarely a line, for the farmers had their own tanks and pumps to fuel pick-ups and tractors. They had one at the big house, but Dad got his gas at Colton's store.

One thing about Colton's store. Those people extended credit to people waiting on their milk checks or factory pay to settle up on Friday night. Just about everyone in the village charged things at Colton's store, and sometimes it was a blessing for some hungry child who might not have had anything to eat otherwise.

They don't make places like Colton's store any more. Today businessmen are too busy to wait on children, to learn their names, and be patient while they spend their birthday pennies. You might have a credit card, but you will probably never have the sort of loving, Christian relationship Melvin and Marlita Colton offered to an entire community. Bless their hearts, and bless this memory of a gentler time.

I hope you have a great day and keep on the sunny side, Terry

Terry L White -Author of the Chesapeake Heritage Series
"Travel Through Time With Terry"

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