Holiday Time At The Old Country Store


All “boughten” things were fascinating to a rural people who saw but little cash money after they had paid their taxes. But surely December was not the month for staples and necessities. There were eleven other months of the year in which to trade for Macbeth Pearl Glass Lamp Chimneys, axle grease. Dr. Price’s Baking Powder, wash boards, stove polish, J. & P. Coats’ Spool Cotton Thread, an ax helve, or Pearline (“Pearline is never peddled”). This was not even the time for case-lot purchases of those crispy food novelties—the new patented breakfast foods like Egg-O-See or the Shredded Wheat biscuits that came from the sunlit factory at Niagara Falls. Piper Heidsick Plug Tobacco (“Champagne Flavor”) might be considered by Father; or the oyster crackers left by the new “cracker man” to go with the Chesapeake oysters, seasonally displayed with the head off the barrel. Peeking in you could actually see the big succulent oysters, shipped in salt water from the distant port of Baltimore. Jelly by the pail would be a good buy that an indulgent father might consider. A treat for himself would be the popular tie of the year—if the year were 1901, the “King Edward.” He would never buy a moustache cup for himself, but he might like to have one if it appeared on Christmas morning, or even a shaving mug, handsomely embelished with an illustration on its side depicting the life of the farmer.

For Mother there were new dimities, delaines, madras, ginghams and calicoes to be seen, with braids, gimps and passementeries to go with her new Russian-style shirtwaist. A set of china bedroom crockery would fit out the “spare room” so nicely, particularly if Grandma were to come to live with them. It was a day of rich adventure. Let imagination soar with horn tombs for wings, and a set of yellow nappies for ballast—those cunning little dessert dishes with sloping sides that were all the rage among the polished hostesses of Boston, Cincinnati and St. Louis. It was a big responsibility to raise a daughter who had already showed a strong bent for the decorative arts in saving her father’s cigar bands for a whole year—enough to cover a card tray completely with these colorful examples of tobacco lithography. Christmas morning must bring more buttons for her “charm string,” already a wondrous long necklace of jet, mother-of-pearl, brass, wooden blanks covered with cloth, enamel buttons with a tiny inset of velvet, and ingenious rakings from the sewing box. Such a daughter could be counted on to pop the Christmas corn and thread it, until the fluffy white garlands were long enough to drape the tree generously with edible snow. She always placed the little wax candles on the tree so that they burned with the prettiest effect. Perhaps a mother with such an artistic daughter would be wise to settle upon the pyrography set, and end all indecision.


Thinking of the younger children, she might use some of the egg money then and there to buy a sack of ginger snaps, or hot peanuts from the fragrant roaster over there. Where, by the way, are the children? Looking at the candy display, of course! Pressing against the counter. Numbering every jar, each safely established on the shelf back against the wall. Each top was a stately pleasure dome sheltering peppermint sticks; or horehound; or rock candy, the crystal clear and the pink kind, each on cotton strings; common and “French” kisses; cigars molded in chocolate or maple sugar; lemon drops, the hard kind, good for sucking; mottoes; jawbreakers; cinnamon red hots; “lickerish” shoe strings; bellyburners, one cent each; and glorious Zanzibars, either lemon or peppermint-flavored, that kept fresh through all weather and in all climates. Chewing gum? Step up and name your brand. Yucatan, Red Beauty, Mint Julep and Red Star were great favorites.


But this was only the beginning. When the holiday time approached, more room had to be made by drastic means. Carriage bolts, nail kegs and egg crates were pushed aside. The oatmeal barrel was rolled into the back room, without regard for the wishes or comfort of the store cat. They just had to make more room—for toys, watches, tiny knives and forks, wooden soldiers, dolls with china heads and kidskin bodies, linen dogs and cats, to be stuffed and sewed up at home. Tiddledy-winks were tumbled in alongside the new game of Lotto. Articles of the omnipresent “tin” made a brave show. It was sheet iron, really, brightly plated and painted, fabricated cheaply into millions of horses, rattles, trumpets and trains.

If you were a boy, and older, there were Barlow knives, under glass, unfortunately, with bone handles and two blades, good for mumblety-peg. For young hunters, a Stevens single-shot .22 calibre rifle. For wintering pleasantly in the country there were Winslow’s skates, and the light No. 2 steel traps a boy needed to set up his own trap line and grow wealthy. For the musically inclined, the stock offered the simple Jew’s harp, harmonicas, or a resplendent guitar.