Uncle Bob and life lessons from the southern country store
In the rural South of the 20th century, country stores were the centers of community. Salvation South Editor Chuck Reece visited many of them when he was a kid, riding along with his Uncle Bob, who supplied those stores for his livelihood. In this week's commentary, Chuck reflects on life lessons that experience taught him.
Chuck Reece - Salvation South Editor I learned about the importance of community by riding shotgun in my Uncle Bob's box truck as he traveled from one country store to another in North Georgia.
My Uncle Bob was a wholesaler. Reece Dry Goods and Notions was his company. The Dry Goods part of his business consisted primarily of t-shirts, boxer shorts, blue jeans and bib overalls. The notions business was boxes containing packs of chewing gum or Tums or candy bars, bottles of aspirin or Alka-Seltzer. Essentially, if a country store needed it and you couldn't wear it, then it was a notion, according to Uncle Bob's theory of business.
I spent countless days riding shotgun while Bob told stories, but the life lessons I learned did not happen inside the truck. They came from what happened inside every country store where we stopped. Uncle Bob did not run his business by stopping at a country store and simply offloading goods. Every stop at every store was a visit. It was a chance to grab a Coke or a Mountain Dew or a Nehi grape and chew the fat with whoever owned the store or happened to be manning the counter that day. As in most such stores, there would be a few men sitting around a woodstove talking about their crops. Or when will the rain come? Or, Lord why are we getting too much rain, or local politics, or maybe inquiring about each other's family. "Earl, how's Myrtle doing? Heard she's been down in her back." No matter which store we were in. Bob engaged. He made friends. He joined the community conversation. No matter where we were. We could be three counties away from home. And the folks in store would greet him with, "howdy, Bob!" And after I started riding shotgun, it would be, "Howdy, Bob. Who's your little sidekick?".
I've always been able to get myself comfortable in conversations with people I've just met. And I know I must have learned how to do that in the country stores along Uncle Bob's route, because the old men invited me into those conversations, asking me what I liked in school or what I was good at, telling me jokes that were fit for kids and maybe a few that weren't.
But the most important thing I learned were that these little stores were places of communion where the folks who lived within a mile or two this way or that came to check in on their community. The country stores are mostly gone now. Because the mountains today are strewn with Wal-Mart and Dollar Generals. But those old places offered lessons that lasted a lifetime. I'm Chuck Reece. Thanks for listening.
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Salvation South editor Chuck Reece comments on Southern culture and values in a weekly segment that airs Fridays at 7:45 a.m. during Morning Edition and 4:44 p.m. during All Things Considered on GPB Radio. You can also find them here at GPB.org/Salvation-South.