A country store is located in the middle of hundreds of acres of farmland embedded with hardwoods and pines that have grown, untended, for a century or two.
In this little rural community live people who mostly work with their hands, raise much of what they eat and pray for any extra help they can get from any place they can get it.
It seems to be with some kind of regularity these days, we drive past it on our way to somewhere else. People always seem to be driving past it, going somewhere besides there.
Perhaps for that reason among others, it is long abandoned. Its gray-painted cinder blocks are dusty with neglect. A screen door dangles at an angle barely hanging on the front door. It is shielded by a small porch and three columns in the style of those old stores. And it is boarded up while weeds spring through cracked asphalt.
Tink never knew it when it bustled with commerce, when old men in worn overalls stopped by to pick up a jar of snuff, when a can of baking soda was needed for a last-minute cake and when kids like me poured a pack of peanuts into an ice cold bottle of Coca-Cola pulled from the glass-topped cooler where drinks were stacked on top of each other. But he taps his horn to pay homage and say “hey y’all” as we pass by.
I always smile, for I remember when. I can see my cousins and me clattering, barefooted, into the store and armed with handfuls of change our parents had dropped coin by coin into our hands.
The floor was old and wooden, cleaned and darkened with oil. The small room was lit only from the sunlight that streamed in from the six windows with varying amounts, depending on the amount of sunshine or clouds. The air was sweetened with the smell of candy with the spice of tobacco cutting boldly through the sugary smell. The woman, weary and gray, rarely smiled when she took our money. I think we were too boisterous for her liking.
That store represents more than cold Cokes, salty peanuts and Baby Ruth candy bars to me. Whenever I see it, I think back to the days when everyone I loved was still alive and how it was the imagination of children that entertained us all.
We built playhouses outlined with rocks we gathered. Then we settled into our “houses” and made mud pies and had teas with invisible cups and saucers. One of my cousins had seen on television that proper people stuck their pinkie fingers out whenever holding a teacup. So we, poor country kids, pretended to be rich and pompous.
When we tired of that, we sauntered to the barn. Sometimes we stopped to swing in the old black tire that hung from a tree or chase the chickens that pecked at the dirt. We’d climb the old ladder to the barn loft, plop down in a circle in the middle of the hay-strewn floor and lean in close as we each took turns trying to tell a bigger ghost story than the last.
At the end of those Sunday afternoons, we’d pile into the backseat of our family sedans, after saying goodbye to grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. Before Daddy was 3 miles down the road, I pushed my good Sunday clothes to the side, laid down, tucked my red dirt-covered feet under me and slept soundly until we arrived home 45 minutes later.
It was dark and late of hour when we passed the little store the other night. Tink tapped his horn and this time I did more than smile. I blew a kiss toward it, then settled back in my seat to think back on those happy days.
It was better than a cold Coke with peanuts.
Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of several books, including “What Southern Women Know.” Sign up for her newsletter at www.rondarich.com . Her column appears Tuesdays and on www.gainesvilletimes.com.