I'm sure I've mentioned it before but I grew up country. And for those of you who didn't read or pronounce that correctly it's "cawn-tree." I mean cows outnumbered the humans. The local post office was inside the farm implement store and the two towns I lived between were really just wasglorified cross roads. My entire county had 2 red lights and one of those only a flasher. Everyone called the town sherrif (who was actually in the next town) by his first name. Call it the Pennsylvania version of Mayberry.
In our town there was a genuine country store. You could find everything from sewing thread, needles and zippers to hunting guns, fishing licenses, and ammo. In the back corner where the hardware was there was a stand up nail bin where the nails were still weighed on a scale per 6 penny or ten penny weight. People who still butcher their own meat could take their hams and bacons to the store owner who would slice it to order.
My sister reminded me about a tradition that we grew up on. Every year at Christmas the store owner (or another member of our community when he got too old) would dress up as Santa and hand out oranges and the Lifesaver holiday books. Even at Halloween we would trick or treat at the store counter. For the longest time you could find the older men of our town sitting on the bench out front talking about the weather or politics or any other notion that crossed their mind.
And this was such a part of our town that it had been passed across generations. First through one family and then bought and passed through another. I could probably even recite you the store schedule if I was hard pressed.
When I took my hubby to PA for the first time, I made a point of taking him to The Store. He strolled and looked. He was fascinated. My mom even got him a cammo ball cap for Christmas that year. Long's Store on the front and "A Little bit of Everything" on the back.
Even more fascinating was the decor. A mounted deer head over the phone in the corner (not a pay phone by the way); a preserved fox sitting on the gun safe in the raised office; pictures of various members of the community on the walls and the famous Brownie Calendar hanging behind the counter. Yard sale signs graced the front window right beside fliers for the fireman's carnival and band concert and senior class play.
In the wee hours Sunday morning, someone struck the gas pumps in front of the store and caused a fire that engulfed our personal landmark. It is gone.
Of course when you see a piece of your history fading you ask how you can get it back. The first question I asked my mother when she called this morning was, "Do you think they will rebuild?" Of course it is all so fresh now that no one knows but there is the rest of the story.
Should our friend and neighbor decide to rebuild, I would be willing to predict that it will be a full community holiday. Every man in town will call in sick and grab a hammer, pliers, wire cutters and any other necessary tool. Every woman in town will head for the kitchen to bake, roast, fry, boil and brew.
And they will laugh.
They will sweat and work and cut and lay block. They will plumb and pull wire. They will tell stories of times and people gone by and they will laugh.
All day I have been consumed by the thought of a huge piece of my memory being stolen from me. Almost to the point of tears. But I look at the possibility that lies ahead if there is a rebuilding and I have hope.
Perhaps we have found the key to my optimism and persistence. A life begun in the country.