Holiday Time At The Old Country Store

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By an ancient tradition, it was up to the storekeeper to show his application. He scurried jovially. Jellybeans for children. A length ribbon for Mother. A cigar for the valued customer who was now in the clear, with no debit balance against his name. A sign over the cigars said “Nine Good Cigars for 25 ¢ ” and Father was duly appreciative.

In the simpler country store days, presents ran to something useful, like a pair of warm mittens, or to something catable—candies, nuts, apples, or an orange. Yes, an orange. Family funds were limited, and so were the stocks at the four-corners store. But all the thrill and magic of Christmas were there, in the planning and choosing, and the giving and receiving.

There came a day when the life of each township and hamlet took on a quicker rhythm, and the reason was spelled a-u-t-o. The car brought the city and the farm so close together there was no room left in between for the old-time country store. Small stocks of gift goods grew smaller still, gathering the dust of the passing seasons like Eugene Field’s little tin soldier.

There are still stores in the country, of course. Groceries, drugs, hardware and the like can still be bought locally, and in very small towns the postoffice may still be tucked away in a store corner, while nostalgic traces of the old regime linger along counters and shelves held over from an earlier day. Yet the store is no longer the self-sufficient center of social and commercial life for an isolated community.

But the memory of holiday time at the general store lingers on in fond recollection. To some it is still a warm personal memory. To the rest of us, it is a heritage and a tradition of life in December as it was lived by a majority of Americans before the customers of the general stores had disappeared down the concrete slab that sped like an arrow to the Big Town.