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Country Store

Gray Wolf


My father came from a long line of Farmers, Merchants and Carpenters. My grandfather owned a true Country Store on Sandy Ridge which is on the mountain between Ervinton High School and Coeburn. Papaw had very little formal education, but I have been told he could look at a column of figures and in his head add them up and have the correct answer faster than a person with pencil and paper could.

Dad talked a lot about how things such as Coffee, Beans, Flour, Corn Meal, Sugar and Salt, came in big barrels, and were sold by the pound and placed in cloth sacks. Many of these sacks later found their way into the articles of clothing for women, by way of Flour Sack Underwear.

The area was pretty much made up of small to mid size family farms, so things such as meat, vegetables, eggs, milk, and butter were produced on the farms. So besides the food staples, papaw sold clothing, work clothes for miners, loggers and farmers and dress clothes for men and women. Work boots and dress shoes along with socks, long underwear, and a few hats also hung about the store. Mining supplies, such as picks, shovels, kneepads, lights, and carbide were for sale as well.

I remember how I looked with wonder at papaws shoes; every pair he owned had one shoe that was "built up" higher than the other. As the result of a horse and wagon running away with him some years earlier papaw's hip had been broken, he had one leg shorter than the other, so he had one shoe built up so he could walk even and straight.

My dad told stories about how the store in the wintertime was the gathering place for the community men in the evenings and nights. The wood stove kept the place warm, well as warm as a small stove could keep a good size building I guess. Although I have never been told, I would suspect that like a lot of Country Store owners of that time, a dram, or half pint, or pint, or quart, of your favorite spirit would always be available from my papaw.

The talk would more often than not end up in what I have been told were some heated discussions about Religion or Politics. During the Depression Era what else would you argue about? Dad said the Hoover republicans and the Roosevelt democrats really went at it on a few occasions. The bible was also discussed with much vigor, usually with my papaw trying to keep order, not always with success. You have to remember in that area it was mostly Baptist, there were, Freewill Baptist, Old Regular Baptist, Missionary Baptist, Southern Baptist, Primitive Baptist, Progressive Baptist, and Buzzard Baptist. (Buzzard Baptist only showed up when food was being served as part of a wedding or funeral).

Of the men hanging out at the store, I would think several of them went to different churches and I guess each one had differing ideas about the bible in someway. Dad said more harsh arguments were had over the bible than over politics. As World War II became a reality, my dad's brother all three of them, joined the Army, his sickness and age kept him home. My grandparents lived thru the war with three of their four sons gone as they said, OVERSEAS. Times were hard and the Country Store felt the hardship same as everyone, but the store remained a constant.

On D-Day, two of my uncles went ashore with the infantry, my other uncle a few days later with his armored company. By some gift of god all three survived to make it home. Dad told the story many times of how mamaw had this Ringer Washer she kept on her back porch, when the news came across the radio that Germany had surrendered she was doing laundry, she apparently became so excited she began dancing with the washer, spun around  and slung the  washer off the porch into the yard.

The store changed somewhat with the times. The new way of things being packaged such as flour by the sack, coffee by the can, and beans by the one-pound bag came to the store. So did the things like Vienna Sausage, Potted Meat, Nabs, Soda Pop and Candy Bars. Dad said the favors of a young lady could be obtained with a bottle of Nehi Orange and a candy bar during the time just after the war.

With my papaw's failing health the store closed before I was old enough to have a memory of it being in operation. The store along with lifetime farming, and the carpentry skills of my papaw provided enough to raise, fed and clothed four boys to manhood. As time went on my uncles made their own way in life. One worked the mines in and around this area; later in life developed some medical problems and died in the mid 1980s. One moved to Indiana and found factory work; he later started a small company of his own, but died of a heart attack in 1968. The other never got World War II out of his system, and when the war in Korea came along, he volunteered and was killed in action. Dad worked at several jobs mostly around Coeburn, usually as a merchant or grocery store work before buying, in 1967 the business my mother still runs in Clintwood.  Dad has been described as the best produce man that ever lived by at least one former employer.

I cannot remember the store being open, but I was in the building a few times after the store closed. I can recall the big glass counters and shelving. I remember a big Warm Morning Wood stove that sat in the middle of the floor, right in front of the big glass counter. Of the many things I wish had done in my life, I should have gotten some photos of the store or a little something from the inside before it was torn down. The country store for the most part has been pushed aside by the big super markets, quick stop stores, and discount centers, but they played a major role in the communities they served. They were more than a place to buy what you needed. They were places to grow up, enjoy life and grow old in. Kinda sad when you think about all we are missing now