Everything in one place

Published 7:25 pm Thursday, April 8, 2010

Do you remember general stores? And I’m not talking about Cracker Barrel, the New Age version of an old country store. I mean the real general store.

I’m talking about the ones that your grandmother sent you to in the summer to get her groceries. One of those places you could get a cold soda, a few sticks of candy, and maybe a little bit of tetanus from a rusty nail sticking out from the wooden floorboards.

It was a place where you could get hoop cheese, a nice, fat cut of souse, and a fried bologna sandwich dinner — thick-cut, not that machine-sliced, pre-packaged nonsense either.

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Most important, the general store was the only place I could get the Popeye candy that came in a box with a prize like Cracker Jacks, except the prize was always a whistle that sounded off like the old sailor’s pipe at the beginning of the cartoon. (Tragically, that whistle of mine was confiscated many, many, many … oh, so many detentions ago.)

Also, I recall the people who worked in the general stores. You know, the old man behind the counter slicing up that thick bologna and hoop cheese. He was never too shy to offer his advice or slap the hand of those rambunctious types who tried to swipe a piece of penny candy. (Maybe I did, maybe I didn’t.)

I also remember the old lady who stood behind the butcher’s block, who had worked there for so long that you couldn’t tell if she was holding a knife to cut the meat or if her hands had actually started growing a butcher’s blade.

And then there was the nice guy who pumped your gas and cleaned your windshield. He was all service with a smile and the person most responsible for developing a young man’s bad habits like spitting watermelon seeds for distance or dipping snuff.

With all that nuance, charm, and good food in one place, who could not fall in love with a general store? I know I did.

So, if you’ll forgive me for stereotyping the entire general store experience as I have, understand that I am only doing so to celebrate places like the Whaleyville general store. Thank you for keeping my enjoyment and my recollection of the general store alive.

Because when I hit the open road from time to time, it’s places like the general stores in Whaleyville that usually make me slam on brakes at the sight of a handwritten sign that usually reads “Hot, fried” something or other. (Doesn’t really matter as long as it’s hot and fried, now does it?).

Whether or not the Whaleyville store provides all the services an old-fashioned general store did, there is one thing it does manage to do — help keep the people of Whaleyville supplied with a few things they need and, hopefully, a bunch of the stuff they want.

Congratulations to the owners of the Whaleyville general store for upholding a grand old tradition that I had thought would be left packed away in my fond memories of growing up in one of the “country” parts of North Carolina. I’m inspired to stop by and grab a few sticks of candy and a cold soda.

And if the store’s owners take requests from someone who doesn’t live in Whaleyville, can you get those Popeye candies in the box? I could use a new whistle.