BRENT DAVIS/Resident Boomer: Missing the Mom & Pop stores
In my garage is a small wooden stool. It has been in my family for generations. At the present time, it is in need of repair. One of the four legs on the stool is broken and every attempt will be made to splice the two pieces together. It isn’t painted. It isn’t varnished. It is a plain wooden stool, nothing out of the ordinary if you just look at it. But what makes it extraordinary is not the simple fact of its existence; it’s the thread to the past it symbolizes.
I have often imagined the life of this stool. It must have started out as a tree in the forest, growing from a small seed that fell onto the shadow of its parent. Nourished by sunshine and rain it grew taller and taller, stretching limbs to the sky. It swayed in the breeze of spring. Provided shelter for animals during the heat of summer. It created a carpet of gold and red in the fall and in the winter stood bare as it prepared to repeat the cycle in spring.
Years, decades and perhaps several decades passed until one day the tree was harvested and taken to a local saw mill. Here the limbs were trimmed and the trunk prepared. A cross-section was cut to form the seat of the stool. Lathes turned and the legs were sculpted. Finally, the hands of a craftsman put each piece into place and secured them with nails. The finished stool was shipped to a store where it remained for unknown days before my grandfather became the final owner.
My grandfather was Clifford Sneed Davis. At one point in time not only did he own this stool, but he also was the proprietor of a small grocery store where the stool was used. The location of the store was adjacent to his family home, a mere 20 to 30 feet from the double railroad tracks at the crossing on Edison Avenue. The store is long since gone and so is the house. Both are now covered and for the most part, forgotten. But this stool tells the story.
I never knew my grandfather. He died when I was 1year old. What I know of him has been passed down through stories of those who knew him. This particular stool was used behind the counter at his small store. He would sit on it and use it for other purposes such as standing on to reach items high upon a shelf. But the most interesting use was as a makeshift butcher block.
Across the top of the stool, cut marks can still be seen from the knife he used to slice bologna for customers who didn’t want the whole log. I imagine these slices were fairly thick, wrapped in white butcher paper and taped closed for convenience. This stool also was silent witness to an event related to me by my father. Back in the late 1930s and early 1940s, grocery items were being rationed not only to individuals but to stores as well. The economy was bad. War. So sugar was a prized commodity. My grandfather’s store was one of the last stops on the delivery route of his wholesaler. On one occasion, the delivery truck arrived without the expected order of sugar. Taking matters into his own hand, my grandfather grabbed his shotgun and headed to the delivery stop made just prior to his store. Well, one thing led to another and he returned back to his store with sugar for his customers. I guess times were much different back then.
In later years after my grandfather’s passing, the stool became a fixture in the kitchen at my parent’s house. We sat on it at the table for meals and eventually it became a favorite of the growing brood of grandchildren our family was producing.
As I sat at the kitchen table with my oldest daughter Stephanie perched upon the stool, we enjoyed a meal and conversation. Stephanie was no more than 3 or 4 years of age at the time. Children at that age have special ways of sliding down from chairs and stools. As she leaned over to slide on her belly to the floor, one of her knees moved across the protruding head of one of the nails. A deep gash stretched about an inch from end to end as her cries grew louder and louder. She still bears the scar to this day. But what she also has is a story to tell and whether or not she realizes it, her story stretches back to the hands of the craftsman who built the stool.
So now it sits in my garage, waiting to be restored and placed back into service. I have a granddaughter now who will eventually have the same thrill as those who came before her from a time when Mom & Pop stores dotted the city.
Brent Davis is a lifelong resident of Benton and Saline County. The Courier has been part of his life for as long as he can remember. He is a graduate of Benton High School. His column appears twice a week: on Fridays on Page 3 of The Saline Courier and on www.bentoncourier.com, and on the Opinion Page in Sunday's edition of The Saline Courier.