In the town where I was raised, a quiet two-lane road leads away from the town square on the west side. Within two blocks, what few businesses there are give way to houses. The asphalt is faded now so that its much nearer to white than its original black. Small houses dot each side of the road all the way out to the four-lane. About the only exception is the local park, whose ball fields come to life in the springtime with t-ball, baseball, softball, and soccer games and practices.
Almost unnoticed now, if not forgotten, is an old abandoned white concrete building which sits on the left side of the road just before you reach the park entrance. For the first two-thirds of my life, that was Miss Nona's store.
Miss Nona was a rather short older lady who, best I can remember, always had a tall bouffant-like hairdo, and almost always had a smile on her face. There were two gas pumps in front of the store, and as long as she was able, she'd come out and offer to pump your gas. The inside featured an old-fashioned top-opening drink cooler. You'd slide the door open, reach down inside and pull out your favorite soft drink, in a glass bottle. There was a bottle opener built into the side of the cooler. Some of my earliest memories of the little country store are of running across the field after baseball practice and buying a Gatorade. Or before practice to buy some Big League Chew.
Miss Nona lived in a house right next to the store, and would open up for business before daylight. She ran the store all by herself the majority of the time. She was there open to close. For many years, she sold biscuits in the mornings. And around lunch, she would slice up stick bologna and hoop cheese and make sandwiches. It seems like she was always busy doing something around the store. If there were no customers to tend to, she might be sweeping up, inside or out. Or stocking the shelves. I asked her for a job once when I turned 16, but she said she couldn't afford to hire any help.
I recall my Dad telling me about the time some man tried to rob her. I don't remember all of the details now. I remember it happened early one morning when no other customers were there. Short story shorter. She kept a shotgun under the counter. Fired a warning shot or two. And no one ever tried to rob the store again. I love that story.
Seems like my parents had always known Miss Nona. Although, looking back, I guess they only knew her from the store. More than once, during somewhat hard times, I remember Miss Nona would let my Dad buy bread, milk, and anything else we needed on credit. Just to get thru until payday, when he would pay her back.
Maybe because she knew my parents, I always felt safe when I was there. I liked to think that she'd treat me like one of her own grandkids. Although she probably would've treated any young person that well.
As I got older, I'd stop by on my way to work for a snack. My usual was a honey bun and a little Coca-Cola. I remember one day not long after I started driving, I stopped by to get gas. I would never let her pump my gas. So when I was done, I went inside to pay, and came back out to discover that I had locked my keys in the car. First time that had ever happened to me, and I was a bit distressed. She, undoubtedly, had seen this situation many times. Brought a straightened wire hanger out and had my door unlocked in seconds. I don't remember if I ever thanked her for that. I hope I did.
Time gets thin. And as Miss Nona got older, she started closing the store a little earlier in the evenings. And then she stopped opening at all on Saturdays. And eventually, although I can't remember when, she closed the store for good. Miss Nona had always looked exactly the same to me, for all the years I had known her. Except for the one time that I saw her after the store closed. I had heard that she was having some health problems. And she looked twenty years older than I remembered her.
No one ever reopened the little country store. Someone put a fish market in the building for a short while. But even that's been gone for years now. When the town grew, it did so on the east side. All the new fast food restaurants, and convenience stores, the Wal-Mart Supercenter, and other businesses, opened there. The west side of town has just kind of been forgotten.
Today, little stores like that one have become scarce. Big money and chain stores eventually put the little man, and woman, out of business. They call it progress. Feels more like we lost something to me. Miss Nona is no longer here. Although I can't remember when she passed. The memories of that little country store, like the highway that runs past it, fade a little more each day.
Most of us will never achieve widespread fame. If you consider that an achievement. But to be remembered fondly by those whose paths we crossed years after we are gone. To have touched someone's life, even in a small way. That's something.
I suppose there have been thousands of little country stores in the world. Thousdands of Miss Nona's.
But to me, there will only ever be one.
"Don't you remember the fizz in a Pepper. Peanuts in a bottle, at 10, 2, and 4. A fried baloney sandwich, with mayo and tomato..."