By Dr. Curtis Varnell
Before the modern chain food stores, we had the local corner groceries. Found in almost every community, the stores offered a little bit of everything, including a fast meal.
Woodard Mosley and the Scrudders’ both had stores at Midway and both offered animal feed, groceries, gas products, and even sold huge blocks of ice for use in the home. In the early morning, customers came in and sit on scattered chairs, coke crates, and benches and told tall tales and repeated community news (sometimes gossip). During the winter, the potbellied coal stoves glowed dull red, people sat close together, and drank cup after cup of dark coffee.
As kids, we would visit as often as we had a nickel or dime. Kit candy, double bubble, and hard candy sold for a penny a package. If you had a quarter, you could get a three dip dime ice cream, a ten-cent coke, and candy.
As my world expanded, I would visit Rollan’s store at New Blane, Widner’s at Prairie View, and Geel’s grocery at Subiaco. I remember well going with my dad to George Widener’s store, a tumble-down building full of every imaginable item a person could want. Ask for a product, George would turn on one of the two or three hanging lights in the store and wander about searching for the product, often followed by one or more of the tabby cats that stayed underfoot while you were shopping. Ask for a sandwich, he would pull out a stick of bologna; whack off a half-inch thick slice, throw it between two pieces of bread, and let you put on mayonnaise or mustard and you had a fast lunch.
One of my favorite hang-outs as a teenager was Ahne gulf and Needham’s store at Scranton. Lila Needham was one-of-a-kind individual. Rickey Miller, David Rhineheart, and my uncle Danny would visit with her and she would offer us advice and try to match us up with the lovely young eligible gals found in Scranton, but even Lila could work only so many miracles. She made some of the best sandwiches and burgers ever. One of those, a package of chips, and an RC Cola cost less than a dollar and all the friendship and kind words came free. Lillie was a wonderful person and an icon to the entire region.
Similar stores were found at Charleston, Booneville, Caulksville, Lavaca, and every other small community. They were the town centers, the meeting place, a place for neighbors to meet and greet. Today, we go through the drive through and get our food and drink in a hurry. We say hi to a waiter we don’t know, hand our dollars through a window, and drive off. We are faster but our life is much poorer than the days of a bologna sandwich and a RC cola.