If basements could talk

Published 9:33 pm Thursday, September 26, 2013

The photograph of my maternal grandfather would have been taken in the late 1940s or early 1950s.

He’s standing behind the counter of his family’s small-town grocery store in a starched white apron, canned goods lined up on the shelves behind him and an old set of scales on the counter.

He stares at you with his grin. You can imagine that a visit to the Fyfe store, though quaint, would not have been a brief interlude. The yarn would have taken a while.

Email newsletter signup

The image my grandmother hangs onto dearly is my closest personal connection with the Gwaltney store in Chuckatuck, strange as that may sound. It often pops into my head when I ride past headed to a story somewhere.

This weekend, the Gwaltney family is staging what Kent Gwaltney described as a “soft opening,” after a complete restoration of the historic old building.

While an official grand opening is being planned for sometime in the coming weeks, the shelves will be stocked with a variety of goods when the doors open this weekend. The store will accept customers between about 11 a.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday, Gwaltney said.

On Saturday, the event will coincide with Chuckatuck Volunteer Fire Department’s biannual fish fry, at the station at 300 Kings Highway from 4 to 7 p.m.

Tickets for the fry are still available in advance for $9 from various local businesses, and will cost $10 at the door.

Gwaltney’s idea is that folks might like to walk or ride down the road from the fish fry to take a peek inside the lovingly restored store.

His grandfather, George Lafayette Gwaltney, took over the business in the 1920s, and a $10,000 grant from the city’s Economic Development Authority helped fund the restoration.

“We’re still not 100 percent, but probably 98 percent complete with everything,” Kent Gwaltney told me.

The Greater Chuckatuck Historical Foundation, which uses a section of the store building for an office, will have folks on hand both days, member Drexel Bradshaw confirmed.

Back to Pop. When I was a kid and younger man helping him out on the farm he owned later in life, he would usually mention his family’s old store whenever one of us cranked an engine in any space that could be considered confined with any sort of stretch of the imagination.

You see, the store sat on the banks of a river with only sand and puddles until the occasional flood. During one of those, in 1955, my grandfather operated a gasoline pump in the store’s basement, winding up in the hospital with carbon monoxide poisoning.

He was only human.