Sunday, January 15, 2006

Miss Nona

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..."


  1. Really enjoyed this story. You don't seem old enough to remember a cooler and things like you described, but I suppose in a small town, and the store being run by an older lady that had been there for years, she would still have things set up in an old fashion way.

    Hope you have a good week.

  2. Well, "bone" you sure made my day. I keep a blog and write many stories similar to this one but I have not had time to get on with it and do the two stores that were in the small village where I was born. All the things you described, right down to the pop coolers filled with bottles, submerged in icy water, to the peanuts in pop brought back memories. I am 71 so I come along a long time before you got here. But the passing of the stores across this country is still taking place. Nowadays it is the small towns and big cities that find downtowns in ruins, abandoned by absentee landlords will make the story telling of these days just as popular to future generations. You are a good story teller.

    Abraham Lincoln - My real name.
    SW Ohio.

  3. larsonbuckeyefans1/16/2006 09:54:00 AM

    I began reading at age 2.Since then I have read thousands of books,magazines and plays.I knew there was a reason that I read your blog-Bone you need to submit that beautiful story to a magazine pronto.I also live in a small town,born and bred.Your story brought tears to my eyes this morning.Many people across the country can relate to little stores like this one.I had one,mine was Seckman's Sohio in rural Nashport Ohio.Harry Seckman was the proprietor.He had a wooden leg.My dad would take me with him to get gas for the mower.I remember how cool the smooth concrete floor felt on my bare feet.I would chose those little wax bottles filled with pastel sugar water or tiny multicolor marshmallow"ice cream cones" because they were so pretty.Your assignment should you chose to accept it:Submit this to magazines until one accepts it for publication.Don't regret it later.

  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  5. Patty: Glad you enjoyed it. Feel fortunate to have been able to enjoy this tiny piece of a simpler time.

    Mr. Lincoln: Thank you for the very nice compliment. I'm sort of at a loss right now.

    Buckeye fans: Wow. Again, thanks for the kind words. Thanks for sharing your own memories as well. Yes, the smooth concrete floor :) I forgot to mention that.

    And the magazine thing. I would love that. Just never think my own writing is good enough.

  6. Good post. Took me back as well. I love those childhood memories. The world was so different back then, wasn't it? Or at least the way we saw it was.

  7. You really have outdone yourself on this one Mr. Bone. That is a great story. I wish I had a little store like that to remember. It's sad to think stores like this are gone. I'd stop at Miss Nona's over a Wal Mart any day.

  8. larsonbuckeyefans1/16/2006 01:31:00 PM

    You're welcome and believe me,it's quite good enough.Remember-if you try,you have a chance to succeed,if you don't try,you have zero chance to succeed.That's my motto.Have faith in yourself.

  9. We have a little store in town but without the character you've described. But still better than sterile cookie-cutter big box stores.

  10. Bone that story was incredible. On a par with any any "published book writer" Loved it

  11. Tenacious One: Thanks. Probably a bit of both. It was different, but also the past always seems so much better now than it did when it was the present.

    Carnealian: Thanks. It is a little sad. Even today, I wish I could stop in just one more time.

    Buckeyefan: Good advice. So simple. But so true.

    Uisce: I think a lot of us feel the same.

    Pia: Thank you :-) Seems like the posts I'm a little unsure about always end up being the ones people seem to like.

  12. The town I grew up in was a little too big for those kind of stores. We had 7-11s on every corner already. But on my way back from Bandera a couple of weeks ago, we went through a town that wasn't even big enough for a stoplight, or a stop sign for that matter. But they did have a store. It was actually called The Store. They had gas pumps with the old roller numbers, and the sign on the pump said No Lead. Inside the store were two old ladies and an old man. The old man was reading the paper and ignoring the old ladies. The shelves were pretty bare. The store also served as the video rental store, and the tapes were home-recorded VHS tapes with the titles and starring actors hand-written on the side. Some didn't even have boxes. My friend and I laughed. It was a blast from the past.

  13. That was a really beautiful story. I grew up on the 'other' side of the lake, and the owners of our little supermarket were patients of my dad. They were a fairly young couple (older couple now) who had never had any children of their own, and treated the neighbourhood kids like little angels. I loved the free whizz fizz!

  14. I missed out - growing up in Sacramento, little country stores didn't (and don't) exist. But I've always loved the thought of little places like that - and little Miss Nona's.

    I'm impressed with your ability to see the greatness in such small things. And glad that you have fond memories.

  15. "I'm impressed with your ability to see the greatness in such small things."

    Well, Bone, I think that just about summed it all up in one line.

    You have done a truly outstanding job.

    Begin to believe in your writing ability... we all do.

  16. I'm a big city slicker, but I have spent several summers working in small towns. And you're absolutely right...there is nothing like a small store, especially in a small town. Sure, the selection may not be as big in the small store, but you can't beat the smiles and conversation. After working in these small towns, I tried my best to find small stores in my city and I patronize them over the bigger department stores.

  17. Hi Bone- sorry I've been away.

    I absolutely love your stories. If I weren't a smidge older than you, I'd like to imagine you were my older brother that told me stories like this when I was a child at night during thunderstorms to keep me centered and unafraid. I live in just such a town. At this very moment one of our century-old buildings stands in ruin on the southeast corner of the square. In the 10's and 20's it was a bustling hotel, one of the first in Iowa with an elevator. An out-of-town developer purchased it about 5 years ago, claiming he wanted to restore the natural beauty of our town's historical social center. But sleeps, barely noticed by passing sunrises and sunsets. I hope for it's revitalization as many prodigal children are now returning home for the benefits of hometown Iowa education and its reasonable closeness to the big city without the demands of money and trendiness. Many of us are buying these homes and businesses to restore the beauty of the past while looking to the future and the hopes that by preserving our past, the same may be done for us by those for whom we set the example, and thus knitting our hearts into a community. Miss Nona's efforts and example are timeless. Thank you for sharing.

    Oh- My blog has been deleted due to some cyber stalker (read family member who used my posts out of context to spread hate). I will re-emerge in a week or two, but shall have to be content with lurking for now.

  18. Lass: Wow! The old roller numbers. Those have got to be rare these days.

    Auburn: Thank you. Thanks for stopping by.

    Robyn: That was a very thoughtful comment and observation. Thank you.

    OC Girl: I guess anytime I write something, I think pretty much anyone could write this.

    Chickadee: Yeah, I'd rather pay a little more than go to a big store and save a dime.

    Sallwood: Thanks. Sorry to hear about your blog. Be sure to leave a comment to let me know where you emerge.

  19. Thanks, Andie. Thanks for stopping by :o)