Under the Muscadine Vine: Country Store Colleagues

Under the Muscadine Vine: Country Store Colleagues

It had been my great-grandmother’s grocery store. She lived in the back room. Later, Daddy re-opened it. 

My family’s Village Mercantile was the gathering place for our Jernigan, Alabama, community. As author Herman Melville said about “life aboard a ship” being his Harvard and Yale, the store provided me with an education that I could not have earned in a classroom. 

Neighbors from all walks of life came through — and often lingered. After all, we sold everything from staple groceries to patent medicines to fabric to car parts. 

Summers in the grocery store were especially memorable. The constant flow of customers sharing news — and sometimes gossip — was more exciting than any television show could hope to be — certainly more inspiring than a school room. 

I liked interacting with the people who congregated there and the “drummers” who came through selling goods, and I enjoyed the company of the icons on the boxes and bottles that lined our shelves. They piqued an imagination that had been stifled during the school year by rote learning. 

The cigar boxes behind the counter offered Lord Clinton, Muriel, King Edward, and my first introduction to Scottish poet, Robert Burns. Once empty, the boxes were perfect to keep found treasures in: hatched bird eggs, feathers, arrowheads, cicada shells, broken pieces of china, and fool’s gold. Prince Albert was there, too, but in a tin. He provided the inspiration for telephone jokesters.  

The phone would ring. A voice would ask, “Do you have Prince Albert in the can?” When Daddy answered that we did, the young comedian would manage to blurt out, “You better let him out,” before quickly hanging up. 

Other characters that kept me company in the store included the pretty ladies on the Vermont Maid syrup bottle and the Sun-Maid raisin box, the uniformed chefs on the Cream of Wheat box and Chef Boyardee pizza kit — not to mention the exotic dreams that were inspired by the Mahatma and Water Maid genies on their flying carpets. 

That small country store also provided my two best friends and me with an array of refreshments on lazy southern summer afternoons: Red Hots and Atomic Fire Balls to test our mettle, followed by banana popsicles to cool our mouths… and SweeTarts, Sugar Babies, Tootsie Rolls, and Dubble Bubble gum. 

Every other Friday, the Book Mobile parked in the yard of the store, bringing with it publications that offered a lens on a world outside of our tiny community, an opportunity to broaden our worldview. I wanted to grow up to write stories like those I read from its shelves. Our little country store, the place where our community congregated, supplied the fodder for imagination and the foundation for that dream to come true. 


Marian Carcache 

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