Volume 2, Number 6, Winter 1966
In this day of the super market and its system of self service, I often think back of the old commissary or general store and the way times have changed since then.
There was no hurrying or lining up and then rushing out through the door, for the general store was the gathering place for the people, especially on Saturday or grinding day as was the meeting house on Sunday. The general store in those days supplied the people of the locality with about everything that was required in their way of living, they carried everything from a paper of pins to a plow.
They also carried a line of drugs, such as were in common use as well as a few patent medicines.
Many of the groceries used at that time were sold in bulk, sugar came in barrels and weighed out as needed as was salt. Most people would buy their salt by the barrel as much was needed in salting meat as well as for the cattle. The price was about a cent a pound.
Soda, an article of everyday use in making cornbread and biscuits, was also kept in kegs, although some package soda was used. Black pepper in kernels could be bought and ground at home on the coffee mill.
Green coffee was much used by coffee drinkers who preferred to roast or "parch" it themselves as well as to grind it. Most coffee was ground at home. The coffee mill held between the knees and used three times a day was as indispensable in those times as the can opener is today, or the bottle opener.
There were also a couple of popular brands of package coffee used. There was Lion Coffee with the picture of a lions head on the outside and a premium list on the inside.
By cutting out these heads and saving them, one could for a certain number get a pocket knife,
a pair of shears, a razor or what not. Arbucles Coffee was likewise put up in one pound packages and also gave premiums for the signature on the package. The price was reasonable-at one time it was two pounds for twenty-five cents.
There was some tea used besides the drinking of sassafras in the Spring, perhaps not near so much as coffee, although here again the price was reasonable. A package of tea "siftings," which was the broken leaves of the better grades could be purchased for fifteen cents.
Eggs were legal tender in the local stores as well as money. The price would go up to twenty or more cents a dozen in Winter and were sometimes as low as five cents in Summer.
As they were brought in by the customer, the merchant would count them out as he placed them in wash tubs.
He would generally have a number of these tubs full when the "huckster" came by on his way to Springfield. He would pack them in layers of straw in the bed of his wagon and it was said considering the roughness of the road, very few were broken on the way. If the customer didnt need groceries or goods for the full value of his eggs, he would receive a "due bill" for the balance. Although some tobacco was raised and used in the natural leaf or made into twists for ones own use, as many liked their "chaw of homemade terbaccer," still there was much plug tobacco sold. There was Star, Climax, Spearhead, Battleaxe and Horseshoe.
This tobacco came in stripes packed in flat wooden boxes, each different brand had its tin tag on each cut. A guillotine-like knife stood on the counter with marks on its base for the different sized cuts. There was also some brands of smoking tobacco carried such as Old Coon and Cut and Slash. There was some snuff sold, not the moist "snoose" of today but a dry powder.
The store had a back room that ran the length of the building where the larger articles were kept such as plows, harness, saddles, crosscut saws, axes, hoes and other tools, here the coal oil was also kept.
This was the only source of light we had in the Winter evenings, but the earliest settlers had less. Their light came from the open fireplace which also served as cook stove and oven.
Our shoes were bought in the Fall, after the cotton crop was sold. Boys would get a pair of heavy square toed buckle shoes which were provided with large grommets or eyelets so we would sometimes remove the buckles and lace them up with laces made from ground hog skin. The skin we tanned by removing the hair with wood ashes and then placing it in soft soap. Sole leather was kept in large slabs by the stores and sold by weight. The soles and heels of our shoes we would fill with hob nails.
A shoes last could be found in almost every home as cobblers were even more scarce than barbers, so home soled shoes and homemade haircuts were common.
When loafing at the general store, waiting for their corn to be ground at the grist mill, it was common practice if near mid-day to purchase five cents worth of crackers and brown sugar.
The merchant would hand the customer a handful of crackers out of the wooden box and place the scoop of sugar on the counter which the customer would dip up with his crackers. Sometimes it would be five cents worth of cheese and crackers.
The round cake of cheese with its knife also stood handy or again it would be crackers and sardines which would cost ten cents as the can of sardines alone was five cents. The merchant would open the can for the customer and place a bottle of pepper sauce or "sass" on the counter for his use.
No doubt all this has changed now and the days of counter sitting are over and the large box stove that stood in the aisle with its drum on top for circulating the heat still more before going up the stove pipe has long disappeared as have those that sat around it.
Copyright Ó White River Valley Historical Quarterly
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