Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Back in the day....

In many ways that count, the little village in/near which I grew up is much as I remember it in my youth. I'm still related to more people that live there than I'm not and many of the homes, farms and businesses remain in the same family as founded them a couple of hundred years ago. But time and change have crept up and there are a few significant differences, many of which relate to how small the world has got since that time.

The general store that sat on the four corners in the village is closed now and has been for some time. Three generations of the same family ran it for over a hundred years, but when the current bachelor store keeper came to retirement age some years ago it was unceremoniously shut down. Given that it's only 10 miles on good, fast roads to a choice of big grocery stores in town and given that nearly everyone in the community today works "out", I doubt there'll ever be another store on the premises.

It sure wasn't this way at any time in the 1970's, although maybe the writing was on the wall by the end of the decade. The road wasn't very good or very fast and many of the families that supported the store made their living right in the community although even then, some did work out. Back then you could buy kerosene, gasoline, cold meat, hardware, a full line of dry goods and boots as well as a pretty fair selection of farm supplies all under one little roof. Pop came in bottles and the cooler was just inside the door with a piece of tin over the top to keep the cold in. A twelve ounce bottle (this was before metric) cost a quarter, recently raised from 15 cents. The candy rack and penny candy jars held a lot of fascination for me at the time; especially the caramels which were high at three pennies a piece. It wasn't unheard of to pay for things in trade or in kind rather than in cash; I've watched folks do it many times. Everybody with good credit ran a tab and if you wanted something that wasn't on premises, the storekeeper would fetch it for you when he closed up early on Thursday afternoon to go to town to lay in additional supplies in preparation for the weekend; Saturday night especially. My grandparents shopped virtually nowhere else, although they would ask my mom (who went to town to the A & P every Thursday herself) to fetch back certain items, including prescriptions, which were unavailable there.

The store came with it's own group of loafers who sat outside on the porch; old men mostly (including the father of the storekeeper); men long retired off the farm who had moved to the village to take life easy. I remember one day when I was pretty small; maybe six or seven years old, sitting outside on my bicycle eating a popsicle when a car drove up. The driver and passenger looked thoroughly addled as they should have given their explanation that they were enroute to Montreal, some three hundred miles distant. This got the loafers pretty fired up; none had been that far from home themselves but all knew the right roads to get there and they all started speaking at once. The loafers were doubly fired up that the lost car arrived at the store going the wrong direction to reach Montreal, at least in this lifetime. When order was finally restored and they all began to calm down the following conversation took place.

From the loafer in charge to another, "How far d' ya reckon it is around the world ?"

"Hell if I know."

"Well then, how about you ? You always was the geographer in this group." This from one to another.

"Reckon it'd eat up 25000 miles. Why ?"

"Cause 25,000 miles less three hundred is how far it is to Montreal if they keep on the same way they're pointed now."

"Well, by God, they need to get that car turned around then."

Said to the lost driver, " You heard the man. Get 'er turned, feller !"

About then, somebody came out with cold drinks for the strangers, and for some reason, as I remember it, also with a pound of cheese. Sounds like a nasty combination today but it seemed to make sense then. This was all handed through the window with much thanks issuing from the car. Directions were given and the car set off headed the right way.

Slowly over the next several years, the old men who loafed at the store died off and were replaced by others; brothers in some cases, neighbours and friends, and as I mentioned, some years after that the store closed entirely. But the story never died among those of us in the know. On my last trip home in September of 2009 to attend my brothers' wedding, the nephew of the lead loafer told me the story as I sat on the steps of the closed store, eating a popsicle I bought somewhere else in the warm early fall sunshine. He didn't know it, but I told him I knew the story first hand. I was there.