One-stop shopping

By Marion Tucker-Honeycutt | Nov 27, 2012

(I may not be able to “go home again,” but I can see it from here.)

Thoreau's admonition to "Simplify, simplify..." comes to mind in the grocery store when I'm standing in front of shelves lined with dozens of brands of the same product. If all I want is a box of garbage bags, it can take a half-hour to choose among the colors, sizes, strengths, quantity, comparative prices, etc..

Today's super shopping markets have nothing on the old-time country stores. The country store offered even more services than the sprawling separate monolithic grocery, hardware, drug stores of today, and you didn't need a motorized cart to get from one end to the other.

I don't swallow the "woman's work is much easier today" jargon that we're supposed to believe.

Even shopping was easier at the country store. If you needed laundry soap, you simply picked up a box of laundry soap -- out of a choice of maybe three brands. Remember Rinso Blue, Oxydol and Ivory Snow? Now, each brand has a dozen different kinds and sizes, and there are seemingly a hundred brands. It can be a major decision to just get a box of soap. That isn’t even mentioning the cost. You all but need to take out a bank loan. (Actually, I make my own laundry soap now out of three simple, safe ingredients, and for less than 50 cents a gallon.)

Up on the farm, Saturday morning was go-to-town morning. Grampa Roy would get out the '33 Ford V-8, Grammie would get her fresh-made butter (Friday was churning day) to trade with, and we'd set off down the Ridge for town.

Usually we'd go to either Springfield or Prentiss, both about seven miles from the farm. Occasionally, we'd make a really big day of it and go all the way to Lincoln, 20 miles away. (Grammie also had an egg business and would sell them in Lincoln.)

Usually, though, we'd go to Springfield or Prentiss. Prentiss had only one general store and Springfield had four. All of the stores provided just about everything you could need. “Butterfield's Sundries Store” at the four corners in Springfield was everything you've ever seen depicted about the old country store. I can still see the proprietor, with his white apron, sweeping the dust and tracked-in dirt across the wooden floor boards and out the door.

Back inside, in the middle of the store, was the big pot-bellied stove and hugged up next to it, the cracker barrel with the checker board on top. Groceries and dry goods lined the shelves round and about the store.

Up the street a ways were Harry Burr's and Hiram Johnson's, and going towards Carrol, down in a little valley, was Tolman's, where Grampa and my brother, Larry, took strawberries and boysenberries to sell.

Johnson’s also served as the post office, and you got your haircuts out back in Burr's. One section of the store was full of clothing, as well as shoes and boots. (Shoes came in black or brown.) Colorful bolts of cloth, including calico and gingham, were stacked up on shelves in between.

Groceries and such were on the other side. Hardware on the other side, grains out back, and you filled up at the gas pumps outside.

The old saying "if we don't have it, you don't need it," may have derived from the country stores like Butterfield's and Burr's and Johnson's.

We weren't barraged in our homes with television commercials cajoling us to buy everything and anything. (Your standby was the big Sears & Roebuck catalog.) You got what you needed, as opposed to what you wanted, and went home. Simplicity. And you never even had to buy garbage bags! Things didn't come packaged in plastic, fancy printed backings and such. If you bought a comb, that's what you got. A comb. No packaging to be disposed of. Leftover food went to the animals: cats, dog, pigs. And with the latter, it came back to you in the form of chops, bacon and roasts -- the ultimate recycling machine.

Burnable stuff went into the stove. What few items were left, like empty bottles from Father John's Tonic, went into the farm dump. This took up a very small area -- maybe 5-6 feet in diameter, and eventually went back to the land -- and became a great treasure trove for bottle hunters in later decades.

Butterfield's, Burr's and Johnson's are long gone, but there are still some country stores here and there in Maine that have changed little.

Indeed, after spending a quarter-century outside Maine, living all over this country, I came on back t'home. I now live in a little town of just around 700 pretty neat folk. We have a small, “one man” post office, where I've never had to wait in line, and only one store that is very like the old country stores of my childhood. I do 80 percent of my (grocery/hardware/bird-squirrel food/gas/etc.) shopping, there. It may cost a few pennies more for some things at the village store, but I save more than that by not taking the 20-mile round trip into town to the big supermarket. (Records show that it costs an average of $0.75-$1 per mile (gas, wear and tear) to run a car. Plus, I don't come home with 10 things I didn't mean to get in the first place.)

I can also get a great meal down back. They make the best corn chowder, lasagna, crabmeat rolls -- well, it's almost like going back to Tucker Ridge. The only thing missing is the checker board. But our equivalent is the daily crossword puzzle. Locals have regular times they congregate and have coffee and food over the crossword puzzle.

You might not be able to go back home again, but you can come darn close.

Marion Tucker-Honeycutt, an award-winning columnist, is a Maine native and a graduate of Belfast, now living in Morrill. Her columns appear in this paper every other week.

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