Loafing Locales

Men Loafing, Crossville, Tennessee 1937 Photo from: http://photogrammar.yale.edu/records/index.php?record=fsa1997017027/PP

Men Loafing, Crossville, Tennessee 1937

Photo from: http://photogrammar.yale.edu/records/index.php?record=fsa1997017027/PP

After last week’s article about General Stores one Facebook friend pointed out that the Peter’s Store in Clarkrange was a longtime home of the post office and it got me to thinking about the places people hang out. 

A couple of years ago I found a list of the post office location in Tennessee and shared them here.  That article mentioned only in passing that the post office was often part of some other business, generally the country store.  How convenient to be able to make one stop and do all of your business – oh wait, our mega-stores these days keep trying to do that, don’t they?  But unlike the stores we bustle through today, yesterday’s country store and post office were leisurely businesses.  I guess if you had to walk, ride a mule or drive a wagon to get there you weren’t in too big of a hurry to rush off. 

We all know (and we often mention) that folks used to visit a whole lot more than we do these days.  Stores had front porches – or barrels sitting around a pot-bellied stove – so you could ‘sit a spell’ and greet your neighbor, catch up on the local news and generally be a part of the a community. 

It wasn't hard for the photographer to capture some men loafing in Crossville in 1937 - here's a second shot. http://photogrammar.yale.edu/records/index.php?record=fsa1997017035/PP

It wasn't hard for the photographer to capture some men loafing in Crossville in 1937 - here's a second shot.


My Daddy tells about going to Wash Livesay’s store in Campground in his Grandpa Stepp’s wagon.  The story is about the team of horses but it’s set on the front porch.  While Grandma went in to do her business at the store, grandpa and grandson passed the time with their neighbors.  He also tells about that same grandpa having business to attend to in Jamestown – he’d really hurry to get the business out of the way so he could head to the courthouse steps and join the loafers there.  Daddy laments – and I completely agree – how he’d love to sit among those old men and just listen.  Can you even imagine what we might learn?  Talk about history!



The Country Store

Peter's Store was the primary Country Store in Clarkrange

Peter's Store was the primary Country Store in Clarkrange

It goes without saying that some subjects can be covered with a quick article while others require volumes.  The Country Store is certainly a voluminous topic. 

I ran upon an article in a 1980’s era copy of The Monterey Dispatch written by Mary Robbins that got me thinking I ought to spend some time – someday – detailing events at the area’s country stores.  I want to share parts of her article verbatim with a promise to further explore this topic at a later date.

At one time, every small community in the rural South had its own small grocery store.  The store was the center of community activity for six days of the week, relinquishing that honor to the church only on Sunday and during revival meeting time.

Although the store was usually very modest in appearance, it was the product, not the package, that mattered for folks who lived anywhere from five to twenty miles from the nearest town of any size. 

Most folks who bought gas, as well as groceries, had it put on their “ticket”.  Having money to spend during the week was a luxury belonging to those who were able to go into town, anyway.  Every small store, dependent upon its “ticket” customers for survival, kept a record of purchases made during the week and took payment on Saturday.  For those customers who received their wages only once a month, the tickets were usually carried till “the first”.

Since the owner of the store and the customer were almost always neighbors or friends, each realizing the extent to which one was dependent upon the other, the arrangement worked well.  Payment was made on time, with few exceptions.  If there was sickness, or accident, or a spell of bad weather when the customer couldn’t work, he was given extension of payment until things got better.  There were exceptions, of course, on both sides.  If a customer did run up a bill and, for no apparent reason, wouldn’t pay, his credit was “cut off” and he would stop going by the store.   This meant he would have to wait till Saturday or the first of the month to go into town for groceries.

In addition to providing an excellent public forum, the country store offered other enticements to grown ups and children alike.  One of these was the cold drink cooler.  Usually somewhat battered, its once white enamel yellowed with age and use, it occupied a place of prominence beside the counter.  Not only did it hold within its cool, dime depths those wonderfully icy, deliciously “stingy” Coca-Colas and Pepsis that were always referred to generically as “pop”, but ice cream, also… brown cows, popsicles in a rainbow array of colors and flavors… grape, orange, banana, lime.  After a hard day’s work in the field or the log woods, stopping by the country store for a pop or an ice cream (or both!) was a treat that few could decline.

The country store offered a variety of items other than food, however.  Along its walls were shelves (sometimes rough planks laid on concrete blocks) filled with the staples so necessary to rural families… Mason jars and lids, flashlights, batteries, turpentine, liniment, matches, shoe polish and occasionally, delightful surprises such as comic books (Red Ryder, The Lone Ranger, Bat Man), a picture puzzle, and near Christmas, perhaps even a toy or two.  At Christmas, too, the store would receive fresh fruit, such as oranges, tangerines, big red and yellow apples, bananas.  And the kind of candy that was a rarity during the rest of the year… chocolate covered cherries, pastel coconut bon-bons.  The smell of the place, always interesting, was made almost unbearably fascinating and tantalizing when the fragrances of the fruit and candy mingled with that of the weathered walls and the ever-present barrel of kerosene.

The country store is almost a thing of the past.  Replaced by giant supermarkets with gourmet food sections and computerized check-out counters, the small grocery down the road a ways is fast disappearing… along with the two-room school and Fifth Sunday singings. 

Just once, I would like to walk down that dusty country road again, to satisfy my thirst with a Coke from that old cooler and listen to the ebb and flow of conversation above my head...”If we don’t get some rain, soon, why the gardens are goin’ to all dry up.”  “Folks over at the county seat are sayin’ Jim don’t have a chance against that lawyer fella in the County Judge’s race…”  “Times sure ain’t what they used to be…”


I’d love to hear your memories of the country store!  Please click on comments below and share.


Pass the Word

Today if you need to send a message to a friend, neighbor or business, you have a wide range of tools at your disposal.  From social media to a simple telephone call your thoughts can be received within moments.  But that’s not always been the case – in fact it hasn’t been that way for very long at all.


Do you remember when long distance phone calls were expensive and letter writing was downright common?  I know y’uns won’t remember when letter writing also costly but it’s not too hard to document that postage, and even paper and ink were often hard to come by.  In those cases, passing the word along seems like a really logical plan, doesn’t it?

Now I’m not necessarily a fan of it – mainly because I always seem to miss the message somehow – but on the mountain we’ve been passing the word for generations and there’s still a fair amount of it.  Whenever there’s a meetin’ or event we’re always asked to let everyone know.  In fact, more formal notifications are rare. 

This concept reaches far beyond our mountain plateau.  In the Bible, Paul’s letters (now what we call the book of Romans, etc…) were probably passed around and read several times. He wrote knowing that lots of people would read his letters and others who were around him sent their greetings in the same note rather than write their own.  Some of this is probably courtesy but there’s a very practical aspect as well since Rome’s postal service was limited to military or governmental use so any messages had to be delivered by merchants or servants.  Paul’s letter to the Ephesians was probably sent via Tychicus as he mentions in Ephesians 6;21-22 that he’s sent Tychicus to them to let them know all the details of his affairs.  While Paul directs the letter in Ephesians 1:1 “to the saints which are at Ephesus”, many scholars believe it was written in such a way as to be beneficial to all the churches in Asia – as though Paul fully expected them to pass it around.  In fact, in Colossians 4:16, Paul actually directs the letter he’s written to the church in Colosse to be passed on to the folks in Laodicea and tells the Colossians to be sure and read the Laodicean letter as well.

Peter does the same thing, even addressing the letter we now call First Peter, which was delivered by Sylvanus, to “strangers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia” (1 Peter 1:1). 

Wasn’t this a tradition that continued really until we got personal email and phones and we stopped writing letters.  Whenever a letter arrived from far off family, in my family we all read it.  It was like a mini-visit with a friend.  In fact, people who could write a letter and make you feel like you’d seen them were greatly admired for the skill.

I hope you won’t find it heretical, but I first began thinking about this tradition of passing the word around when I shared the letter from Lottie Todd here a few weeks ago.  Wasn’t Lottie’s ministry a little like the Apostle Paul when he was imprisoned and continued to minister to the various churches via letter-writing?  Lottie too lived in a type of prison as she was confined to her bed.  Instead of allowing the illness that restricted her to constrain her influence, she wrote her thoughts and when her letters were received they were passed from one to another just like the churches had passed around those early epistles. 

Not all of the messages were ever written down, often we send word by mouth alone.  And while those messages might get a little warped from time to time, it’s an age-old practice that still works in our modern era.

Mystery Picture

poss stacie.jpg

I have this picture of a lovely lady with her two children.  Based on her clothing I’m guessing she’s in her early twenties and the picture was probably made during the 1920’s.  Therefore she was born right around the turn of the 20th century.  I’m just sure that she’s some of my family because she looks an awful lot like one of Daddy’s first cousins.

I do not know her name.  No one seems to know her name.  I’ve asked the oldest members of my family.  I’ve asked those in the family who are most interested in genealogy.  I’ve asked pretty much anyone that would listen to my question.

She is a mystery.  And mysteries kind of drive me crazy.

Well this mystery is miniscule compared to other mysterious images for there are some that people have spent lifetimes studying.  Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa is one of the most famous works of art in the world and no one knows her real name.  Did da Vinci refuse to divulge her name?  Did no one bother to ask him who it was?  Or is it possible that everyone that knew the artist knew exactly who that lady was and no one ever bothered to jot it down on the back?  Okay, maybe some of those questions seem a little absurd yet countless historians have spent untold hours researching and arguing and documenting who it could be.  Still she is a mystery.

Am I trying to inspire you to go right quick and label all of your pictures?  Sure, I’m always eager to inspire my readers.  I’m also simply inspired by some of these old pictures. 

Tobitha Ingle Todd.jpg

When I’m writing, I frequently look at pictures of an individual who has inspired a character. I ask myself what I can learn about the person – what does this picture add to the stories I’ve heard and the legend that survives them? Historically pictures were valuable possessions and therefore weren’t taken lightly.   Therefore, the book you chose to hold in a picture must mean something, the people you were with and the place you visited must all be relevant to your life.  I have a picture of my Great-great-great Grandmother who passed away in 1931; she’s holding a large book.  Since these were Christian people I assume it’s a Bible – where is that Bible now?  I’d love to see it.  I imagine if I used this character in a story I could easily incorporate her recording family information in that Bible and that she’d sit at the kitchen table with it open before her.

Do you think this mysterious young mother has a story to tell us?  Would you like to see her character in a future book?



Shared Space

Houseful of Kids!

Houseful of Kids!

If you’ve been reading The Stories for very long you will know that we often have visitors in our home who hail from far and distant lands.  This week we’ve had the distinct honor of hosting two families from Miami who were seeking refuge from hurricane Irma. 

It seems out of the ordinary to have thirteen people in a home in this day and age – but of course this was an extraordinary weather event and it put people in usual situations.  Yet, as I research my ancestry I’m often faced with census records showing three or even four generations living together.  A single individual will often be listed as a boarder, yet I know that person to be a niece or nephew.  There were children taken in when parents weren’t able to feed them and aging grandparents were sheltered when they could no longer manage on their own. 

We mountain people are used to helping out whenever help was needed and that’s a part of our culture that I long to perpetuate.  My guests this week were originally from Israel (and one son-in-law from Brazil but we might have to talk about him later).  So their traditions are different than ours and my children didn’t understand everything.  They do not cut little boys’ hair until they turn three and my children kept calling them “her”.  They eat different food than us and they were very gracious as I blundered along trying to honor that.  Maybe they saw a bit of Tennessee Mountain culture too as I introduced them to fried okra and made big fluffy biscuits for breakfast.

As people left the mountain looking for work in the 1940’s and 1950’s, they regularly stayed a few days or a few months with kin that had already relocated to the big city.  Surely it was a comfort to be in a strange place and have someone familiar around them.  Imagine leaving your home unsure whether you’d have a home to go back to in just a few days.  Imagine heading north to a place you’d never visited and the home of strangers. 

Well, the folks in my home were strangers last week but they are friends now.  A dear friend of mine was a cousin of theirs and she was our only link.  I pride myself to think I’m a little like my grandmother whose home was often filled to overflowing – in fact when my friend asked how many people I could house I said it depended on how desperate they were.  Grandma would often have people scattered on the floor on pallets – I wonder what guests would say to that today?