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THE COUNTRY STORE

by
Kenneth W. Godfrey

Today's glitzy commercials extol the advantages of shopping in gigantic supermarkets. These conglomerates sell everything from exotic deli sandwiches, to pills and hair shampoos. Each store believes their price is lower than the others, and a shopper can become a schizo just trying to decide at which grocery store to shop. Not so years ago, because each small town had one country store and often no more.

Very few of my memories, if any, elicit the pleasant nostalgia of Kendall's Merc in Cornish, Utah. Hardwood oiled floors exuded a special unique scent seemingly combining dill, Coke, chocolate, and a mixture of meats. A ubiquitous potpourri of goods delivered at least twice weekly filled the shelves. Pocketknives, shot guns, Red Wing shoes, zippers, percale, rickrack, buttons, barbed wire, twine, tobacco, rubber tire glue, Juicy Fruit chewing gum, plus what seemed a never-ending assortment of foodstuffs. The only post office within a five-mile radius was also within its walls. Small, copper-faced square boxes that opened only after two small wheels were turned in the proper numerical sequence, held our mail and the Sears and Montgomery Ward catalogues delivered once a year. In the back room hung one of the town's few telephones encased in brown wood with an ebony crank which when turned rapidly aroused a sleepy operator. Most telephone numbers were four digits, no more. A rather large round dill pickle barrel filled the space just to the left of the phone.

The owner, a cheerful ex-baseball pitcher, his wife and two daughters lived in six rooms attached to the store. A gifted yarn spinner, he was capable of entertaining young boys for hours. His store, not the school or the church, at least six days a week was the community's hub.

Even today, more than forty-two years after leaving the town of my birth, I still believe, at times, I can taste the root beer or the orange soda pop drawn from the icy water of the fire engine red, rectangular Coke cooler. Following an afternoon of swimming and sun tanning at Kings Hole, drinking a cold bottle of soda pop brought an exquisite pleasure whose memory time has failed to dim. Sips punctuated with gossip catalyzed a hope that life need not always be dreary. It was, I believe, while drinking pop that I learned to closely listen to and observe my fellow townsfolk.

Still it was the store's telephone that provided the most excitement during my teenage years. On horseback or bicycle or "shanks pony" I, heart pounding wildly in anticipation, made my way the mile and a half from our phoneless house to the country store. "Blessed" with a skinny body, a sometimes speech impediment, and an innate lack of confidence, I preferred asking girls for dates via the phone so they could not see how I looked when turned down. There were times, though rare, of course, when a person of the female persuasion actually replied in the affirmative. On such occasions the ride or walk home sailed off the pleasure chart. At such times I usually sang popular love songs full gusto 'neath the stars of winter night. Pavarotti, Julio Iglesias or Placido Domingo's voice quality on such evenings was inferior to my own. Why even the cows, I believed, gave straight cream when I sang to them after receiving a "yes" from one of my female friends.

While looking at comic books hidden by the boxes of cold cereal, which we were seldom rich enough to purchase, I sometimes overheard things not meant for my young ears. Though we never had a divorce in my town and there were no teenage pregnancies, still some of the young people were more frisky than others. Thus rumors couched in fact of drinking, thieving, smoking, or unusually heavy petting sometimes filled the air. Why, one boy, it was said, was even caught window peeking on a newly married couple. Pretty dull stuff, you say. Well, maybe so by today's standards, but it was heady information for a bashful adolescent boy. Then came World War Two.

Suddenly our story diet radically changed. Now I heard of young men only a few years older than myself so scared they tried to dig foxholes on battleship decks under attack or shooting "zeros" out of the South Pacific sky. Fear gripped our town, laced with a strong dose of hatred for people I had never seen. Only when I read that German prisoners of war were coming to top sugar beets in our fields did I actually believe I would meet the enemy. I was scared. When the Germans arrived in those yellow Cache County school buses I found to my surprise that Germans were human beings. I even spoke with one, only then realizing he possessed feelings akin to my own. He spoke of family, of blonde boys, of loneliness, of his hometown, and even of love. He somersaulted my view of the war.

Goods ordered from mail order catalogues came first to our country store. Thinking the coveted parcel may have arrived, I peddled my knee action, sky blue bicycle frantically toward the store only to be disappointed. Then a day or two later the package would usually arrive. Shirts, corduroys, socks, and even unmentionables came the way described above. Once a month, most generally the last Friday, Sport magazine lay in our post office box. Excitement rushed through my body as I hurriedly exited the store through the back door past the telephone to where my bicycle was parked. Home, finished with chores, I spent the rest of the evening, as well as time on Saturday and Sunday, reading about Joe DiMaggio, Johnny Lujack, Doc Blanchard, Glen Davis, George Mikan, and other sport luminaries. Time stalled, distance was no more as I stood in a Yankee stadium batter's box, seventy thousand fans screaming for a hit, or I donned a black knight of the Hudson uniform and make broken field runs at West Point. Dreams dreamt that never came true. Only later when many of the articles from the sport magazines of my era were published in book form did I come to appreciate the fine literary quality the magazine possessed.

Each fall our country storeowner sponsored a World Series pool. Everyone in the community contributed twenty-five cents, which was placed in a voluminous bowl, then we each drew five players. At the end of the World Series, the person whose players had the most hits was rewarded with all the money. I can still remember the last time I entered the lottery at the country store. Mickey Mantle, Gil McDougald and Phil Rizzuto were three of the names I picked. In all the years I had participated never had I won. That October I prepared to leave for a Southern States mission. Only after arriving in Florida did I learn I had won. A check and a letter from the storeowner bore the news. My ill-gotten gains were used to benefit Southern folk.

Yes, we have larger stores nowadays with significantly more numerical choices and scads more variety, but I still long for the country store. Don't you?