This is the poem that is inspiration for this week's Monday Muse:
The Country Store
Far our beyond the city's lights, away from din and roar,
The cricket chirps of summer nights beneath the country store;
The drygoods boxes ricked about afford a welcome seat
For weary tillers of the ground, who here on evenings meet.
A swinging sign of ancient make, and one above the door,
Proclaim that William Henry Blake is owner of the store;
Here everything from jam to tweed, from silks to ginghams bright,
Is spread before the folk who need from early morn till night.
Tea, sugar, coffee (browned or green), molasses, grindstones, tar,
Suspenders, peanuts, navy beans, and homemade vinegar,
Fine combs, wash ringers, rakes, false hair, paints, rice, and looking glasses,
Side saddles, hominy, crockery ware, and seeds for garden grasses.
Lawn mowers, candies, books to read, corn planter, household goods,
Tobacco, salt, and clover seed, horsewhips and knitted hoods,
Canned goods, shoe blacking, lime and nails, straw hats and carpet slippers,
Prunes, buttons, codfish, bridal veils, cranberries, clocks and clippers
Umbrellas, candles, scythes and hats, caps, boots and shoes and bacon,
Thread, nutmegs, pins and Rough on Rats, for cash or produce taken,
Birdseed, face powder, matches, files, ink, onions and many more,
Are found in heaps and stacks and piles within the country store.
Growing up, I loved the Laura Ingalls Wilder "Little House on the Prairie" books and the TV series, too. This poem reminds me so much of the Olsen's general store. This is where the townfolk went for every day needs, traveling to the larger city only a few times a year perhaps.
I suspect that everyone has known a store like Olsen's or the one in the poem at one time or another. For me, it was O.W. Houts & Son, referred to by those who knew it simply as "Houts", located in State College, Pennsylvania, where I lived while I went to graduate school. This little grocery stocked local produce in the summer, had the best coffee (a blend I swore by called Scandinavian), wonderful fresh meats (cut to order, if you so chose), and little gourmet treasures for the creative cook! The attached store was like an old fashioned mercantile, a veritable treasure trove of the unusual and hard-to-find!
Sad to say, Houts is now closed. I suspect its' demise was linked to the arrival of the Wegmans grocery store chain and others to the area. Don't get me wrong, I LOVE Wegmans and make a beeline for it when I go back home to Pennsylvania for a visit. Although I don't get back to State College that often, I was devastated to hear the news. Why couldn't they coexist? It had a very loyal following, or so I thought. Tragic to lose this little gem!
How many other little gems like this have been lost? I think shops like this harken back to a time when communities depended upon themselves and were self-contained. I am very heartened, though, that the slow foods movement seems to be taking hold with the popularity of Barbara Kingsolver's book and others like it. It's wonderful that people are trying to be more frugal and self-sufficient in other aspects of their lives as well. I am all for a resurgence of this type of lifestyle.
I live on a small island five miles offshore, connected to the coast by a causeway and a series of bridges. It is 13 miles to the highway and "civilization", so to speak. However, the mainland is still very rural and has only just begun to be touched by "development" as many areas know it. The nearest "urban sprawl" is an hour away -- and I like it that way.
On our little island, though, we have our own little community of merchants that I try to support on a daily basis. We have a few book stores, a great wine & cheese shop (Hi, Kathy!), a pharmacy, a hardware store, several fishmongers, and so on. Even though I have my own vegetable garden, I am a weekly visitor to our small, but loyal, farmers' market. I can buy fresh Chincoteague oysters from my next door neighbor, who is a waterman. Our little island grocery store is lacking in some areas (like its produce), but this is where I buy most of my meats.
The constraint of geography has made me a more local consumer and I am glad for it. For those of you who live in more urban areas, my message with my Monday Muse is next time you are on your way to a large chain store, search out the little gems in your area instead. Support you local businesses, run by people like you and me who are trying to get through these tough times, too!