Monday, May 5, 2008

Grandma Howland’s store, By Kathryn Wood Barron

My Mom (Gladys) was Lily’s youngest daughter, who was Kate’s youngest daughter. My baby sister Wendy has the distinction of being Mom’s youngest daughter. I was Ma’s oldest daughter, and as such, there are things I have memories of that Wendy doesn’t. Grandma’s store is one of those things. My mom worked at the store for Grandma. I visited Grandma’s store plenty of times while I was growing up. Occasionally I would get to spend a whole day there. It was a great place to go!

In front of the store were the gas pumps, where I learned to pump gas. Who knew that self service would be the norm later on? When you went into the store, you walked down a couple of steps and you faced the counter. Behind it were stuff like tobacco, cigarettes, etc. Junk I did not care much about. To the right (as you are facing the counter) were shelves with canned goods. To the left was the candy case. Usually, there were bread racks in front of the window . There were chairs around the edges, and more shelves all over the place. As I remember, Grandma didn’t carry a lot of frozen stuff. I do know she carried frozen treats like Popsicles, cones, and other junk. She had a meat cooler, and sold cheese. She sold chips and pop and comic books and lots of cool stuff. She even carried stuff like socks and odd stuff like tire repair things. I can’t think of much that she did not carry. A little of everything. That store was a marvel!

In the back of the store was her kitchen and the bathroom. That sign with the two hunters (that was later moved to the Henderson bathroom) was in there. Grandma usually had a jar of cookies in the kitchen. They were ‘Wine drops”, a molasses cookie that she made. There was a door going outside in the back. There were stairs in the back that went upstairs where some stuff was stored. There were store rooms on both sides of the store too. There was a door going to one behind the candy case. That was the one where the pop was stored. There was a door going outside in that store room. The other store room had lots of ‘dry goods’. On one wall were drawers that contained sewing supplies like thread, shoe laces and other stuff. In the front of the store, behind shelves, were the stairs going upstairs to the bedrooms. Grandma’s was the farthest in, and Wendell’s was where the stairs came up. Wendell had the coolest toys. He had heavy metal farm equipment toys. Way cool! I realize now that these were toys he had when he was younger and later had for his kids. I doubt that they would have lasted like that in the Wood household!

When I was there I usually holed up behind the candy case with a huge pile of comic books. Grandma told me I could eat as much penny candy as I wanted while I was there. She had tootsie rolls, root beer barrels, fireballs, bubble gum, licorice, Mary Janes, Necco rolls, coconut strips, suckers, taffy, and more. Sounds real great unless, like me, you don’t have much of a sweet tooth . I usually snagged a bag of Cheese Jax, a Slim Jim and a bottle of pop and spent my day catching up on the comics. What bliss! Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, The Two-Gun Kid and Kid Colt were a few of my favorites.

Back there, I could see and hear Grandma and Ma interacting with the various customers. The shopping experience was as much a social occasion as a time for shopping. People caught up on all the news and divulged even more. Grandma and Ma always knew who was sick, who had new babies, who died, who was mad at whoever. They even caught up on any new jokes floating around. The customers sat in the chairs and gave Grandma or Mom their grocery lists. Ma or Grandma or both got the groceries for them.

Mom and Grandma had different ways they treated people. Grandma was like the person next door, but she was very much in charge. Ma was kind of a flirt with the men. Any man. She could bat her eyes at a ninety year old man and at his 4 year old great grandson at the same time. It was just how she was. She would ‘sir’ every male. They loved it. Ma really liked people. Ma and Grandma really were great together there in the store.

I have listened to the interviews that Jack did with my Grandmother. In them she tells that she sold the store for $7000. She was robbed. Harry Underwood bought the store and changed one of the storerooms into a barber shop. He tried to run the store too. He didn’t last all that long. He ended up selling it to the Church next door and they tore down the store and made the land into a parking lot. When my daughter and I went to Wendell’s funeral, we parked about where the store used to be. I still get kind of sad to see that parking lot.

Picture One: Lil and the store
Picture Two: Older picture of the store
Picture Three: Lil and Elmer
Picture Four: The store and Elmer, Lil and a hired girl. This was taken when my Mom was a girl. Way before my time, but a real cool picture.
Picture Five: Lil, June 1958


sue kinsella said...

What a wonderful memory! Thank you!

I was old enough when we used to visit the store to remember it, but not old enough to really "understand" it. From your description, it almost sounds as though the store was in a house, in the place where the living room would otherwise be. And it sounds as though Aunt Lil ran it as though it were in the living room, too. How wonderful that would be!

I love the idea of people handing Lil and Gladys their grocery lists and then sitting around talking about the latest news while their groceries were gathered together. Of course, I guess that means you'd have to have a well-planned list. None of this, "I'm hungry so I'll throw that in the basket" kind of stuff. Although I bet Aunt Lil "recommended" lots of tidbits. She was probably the only one who could find anything, as well!

One time when Alex was little and had some infectious disease, I needed to get groceries but he was too sick to take him into the store. So I made out a list, went to the grocery store door and got the attention of one of the guys bagging groceries. I asked him if he'd pick up everything for me and bring it out to the car, where I'd pay him. He was great, but how much better it would have been to hand it to Lil and Gladys and give them the latest update on Alex's chicken pox at the same time! Of course, nowadays I guess we'd just do the grocery shopping online.

I notice that even when Elmer was there, the store was a treasure hunt. How did they get the store? Who started it? I wish it were still there so I could go back to see the past.

Anonymous said...

Kathryn, you are right!!! Whenever I go past there I miss the store!! Parking there seems wrong!!
And yes, We loved that candy counter!! No comic books in our day tho. As I remember, when you come in the front door and turn left, about midway in that side was the door to the toilet with ALL the wonderful grafetti . Was that there in your Day?
I think the original business in the store was Elmer's bicycle and Car repair. He was very handy thay said. By the time I came there. he was content to sit in a chair and occasionally we could get him to get up and do a soft shoe shuffle. I think there was a earlier use for that frame but I have firgotten. Will ask Sylva or Leona. Anyways, Many happy hours spent there!! CB
PS Do you know when it was sold?

Kathryn said...

The only bathroom I remember was off the kitchen. I do not remember any grafetti in it.
I am not totally sure when the store was sold. I know that it was either in late 1962 or early 1963. In May of 1963 the Wood family moved off the farm and into the house in Center Lisle. Then Grandma and Wendell moved onto the farm. The store was sold shortly before that.
Aunt Leona or Aunt Sylva would know more.
Lots of love to all!

laurelamyd said...

That was wonderful, just like walking through time. I have a 'vague' memory of walking in and around the building just before it was torn down. But having the interior changed added with the time differences, and EMPTY, just wasn't the same.

Kathryn said...

I have 2 corrections to my story. My brother Chic told me that Harry Underwood didn't pay Grandma for the store. My sister Laurel (and Wendy) found the deed at the County records office for the sale of the store to the Church. GRANDMA sold it to the Church for $1.00. That is ONE DOLLAR. It was on November 9, 1968. Laurie sent me the info. Thank You Laurie!
Lots of love!

Anonymous said...

Back again!! So glad you wrote this, Kathryn! And I was mistaken, the BR was to the left as you came in. Beyond the stairs! And those stairs, on the wall beside the front ones were all the medicines for the animals!! Harold and I used to love to smell them!!!
Leona told me when I talked with her 2 nites ago, that the store was originally a house! [ never knew that" And that Elmer had started his car repairs business in a small building across the street near Aunt Nell's front porch. When they bought the store property they tore down that other building that he started in. Thenthey slowly added groceries as well as the gas in front. CB