Those of you that read this regular series know that I am from Hackett, Arkansas, just a mile or so from the Oklahoma border, and just about 10 miles south of the Arkansas River. It was a rural sort of place that did not particularly appreciate education, and just zoom onto my previous posts to understand a bit about it.
My maternal grandmum married John Mackey, a really nice man who had been a doughboy during World War I. She had been widowed for many years (my grandfather died years before I was born) and John had been married briefly decades before, so he was essentially a bachelor.
John had a little candy store on Main Street in Hackett where he sold candy, cold soft drinks, flashlight batteries, and sundries. He never made any money with the store because he gave so much stuff away to kids (like me). He lived in the back of the store until he married my grandmum. He had a little pension for serving in World War I and also a black lung pension for being a coal miner for years.
The store was the gathering place for the old men in town. He had an awning over the storefront and several benches and chairs under it. He also had chairs and tables inside for winter and he had a pot bellied coal stove in the store. At the time coal was readily available for the consumer market in Hackett.
The gang, as my grandmum called them, would meet at John's store and drink soda, chew tobacco, smoke, and just generally pass the time. They were all pretty much retired so had plenty of time on their hands. John also sold ice (not bagged ice, then still pretty new) but block ice, so they always had ice for their pop even though he had a cooler. It was one of the ones that had the bottles on racks, with different sodas on different racks. You would put in your dime and select the soda by the crown cap, open the little glass door, and pull the bottle out.
I liked root beer, and in that region Nesbitt's was the major brand. As a matter of fact, Nesbitt's made cream soda, strawberry, orange, grape, lemon aid, and several other flavors. Coca-Cola was also popular as was Dr. Pepper and Pepsi. Seven Up was also popular.
John did not sell cigarettes or other tobacco at his store because he did not have the proper license to do so. But tobacco was available across the street either at Mr. Rutledge's store and also at the Pittman's store.
There were a number of regulars in the gang. John, of course, since he owned the store was the ringleader. John was a very proper person. He always wore a starched white shirt and a necktie, regardless of how hot it was. The store had no air conditioning, by the way. That did not matter; John always dressed well.
One of the other members of the gang was Delbert (Deb) Miller. He was a little younger than most of the gang and worked part time at Kenneth Flechter's and Wayne Lennier's garage just up the street. Deb had a unique voice, whiny and nasal. Do not get me wrong, Deb was a nice fellow, he just had an odd, singsong was of talking. Think of the teacher in the Peanuts animated cartoons and you are sort of close. Deb usually dressed in his garage uniform.
Another regular was Dee Francis. Dee was a big man who still farmed a little. He always walked to and from town and I do not know if he even had a vehicle. Surely he had a pickup to do his farming, but I never saw it. He would come every spring and bring his horse and plough and break up my grandmum's garden. I can not remember how he got the horse and plough to town without a truck. This part of my memory is lost in the mists of time. Dee was walking home at dusk one evening and was struck and killed by a car. His invariable blue denim overalls and work shirt were not highly visible. The lady who struck him was determined not to be at fault, there was no alcohol involved, and Dee sort of walked way too far from the edge of the road.
John Hunley was another regular. Like John Mackey, he always wore a starched white shirt and a tie. He was pretty quiet, doing more listening than talking. I remember his snow white hair and big, round glasses. He and his wife went to our little church, so I saw them often.
Other regulars were the Glenn brothers, Hubert and Walter. I used to ride my bicycle on the country roads past Walter's farm, and he would often give me produce to take home to my parents and grandmum. I remember him giving me a muskmelon once, and it did not do well in the wire basket on my bicycle on the rough country lanes! Hubert was a chain smoker and I remember very well how his cigarette would bounce up and down as he talked whilst smoking. Both of them were normally attired in overalls.
Clyde Bailey would sometimes stop by the candy store. I saw a lot of Clyde because he worked at Budge Porter's garage across the street from my grandmum, where I stayed lots since both of my parents worked. Clyde was a shouter. Not in anger or anything, but he was just loud. He also had fiery red skin on his face, which I later learnt was from radiation treatments for skin cancer. He usually wore his garage uniform.
Now and then Roy Chandler would come and sit. He was an overall guy, too. I have written about him and his wife here. He would always bring his ancient Chihuahua dog, Dutch.
These days to allow a seven or eight year old boy to hang out with a bunch of retired men with no parent around would seem unthinkable. Back then, though, it was very normal, at least in my little town. My family knew all of those men personally, and John Mackey was like a grandfather to me even before Ma and he married. I spent many an hour at the candy store and learnt a lot about the folklore and history of the area from listening to them talk about the old days.
I know that this is short tonight, but I have been occupied for much of today. The dog chewed holes in The Little Girl's blowup pool and I spent quite some time trying to patch holes and reinflate it. Thank goodness for shop vacs! The Girl and I finally resorted just to keep putting air in it every half hour or so until The Little Girl got tired of the pool. I likely will be quite late taking comments tonight because The Girl is going to cut my hair just after posting time, but I shall return some time.
Please add your experiences growing up in the comments, whether or not it was in a little town. I know that I enjoy reading them, and from feedback so do other readers.
Doc, aka Dr. David W. Smith