Friday, May 19, 2006

Friday Flashback: Miss Nona

I am thinking about running my first ever 10K tomorrow. While 6.2 miles is not far for some of you, it would be farther than I've ever run. If you would like to sponsor a mile, let me know :-)

My week is almost up renting Pia's blog. I have thoroughly enjoyed my stay on her sidebar. In honor of my first ever blog landlord (blandlord? blandlady doesn't really work), I am reposting what she claims is her favorite post of mine. And actually, it almost goes along with her legacy post from Thursday.

This was originally posted January 15, 2006:

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 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. Thousands 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. I always love this story... absolutely love it.

    Very well written, Sir Bone.


  2. I grew up in a tiny little town but we had 2 stores. I forget the name of the one we used to walk to, but we would look everywhere for returnable bottles so we could get some gum or candy with it.
    We didn't have anything like Miss Nona though...but my best friend's family did have credit at the one store. My family never shopped there. Mom always drove into the big city for our groceries.

    Soon they put in a "big" grocery store right down the street. Mom still refused to shop in our town, we had to go to the Piggly Wiggly.

    Wow it's late.

  3. I grew up across the street from a mall. I grew up 45 minutes from Manhattan. We didn't have little mom and pop shops like that. When we would travel and pass small stores like that and go in, it was like stepping back in time. I always wanted a store like that but "progress" pushes them out. It's a shame, it's a part of history.

  4. *(wiping little tear away). I like the flashbacks, since I'm new, I get to catch up.

    My dad grew up in a one-horse (then a one-stoplight) town. You could probably walk from one end to another in 10 minutes. But I remember walking to the country store with my grandmom, getting a Coke from the fountain (man, Coke doesn't taste the same in a can. And bottled Coke was like crack.) Everybody knew us, and would always say "hi"

    Miss Nona is one of those people that molded who you are, even though you didn't know it at the time. I think we can all hope to touch someone's life that way. That's what true fame is.

    Good luck in the race. I try not to run unless someone is chasing me, due to crappy knees.

    And seriously, you should start sending Dorothy some sort of payment for her PR services. :)

  5. OCG: Thank you, Miss OCG. I'm glad to know

    Renee: You're not talking the Michigan Deposit Bottle scam again, are you? :)
    And my first job was at a Piggly Wiggly!!

    Libragirl: Good observation. It is kinda like going back in time. Or was.

    Carmen: I agree. Coke has never tasted the same as it did in that glass bottle.

    And I'll probably adopt your running theory after this weekend.

  6. I'm going to link you on my site today. This is my favorite of all of your posts, too. May all my Blog traffic get to read this and feel what I felt the first time you told us this story.

    Thanks for this post refresher. Have a great weekend.

  7. Am trying not to be overly impressed with my own talent for picking brillant posts, but this one truly is

  8. Beautiful.

    That's the type of story that takes my breath away.

  9. Good luck on your race. Let me know how you do.

  10. Dorothy: Thank you. And thanks for the link. Hope you have a great weekend, too.

    Pia: I challenge you to find another one amongst my archives ;-)

    Lauren: Thank you. I'm humbled by your kind words.

    Lindsy: Thanks. I'll let you know, assuming three things:
    1) I live
    2) I finish
    3) I don't finish last

  11. I too grew up in the 'big city'. I never saw a Piggly Wiggly until I moved to a smaller city to go to school. There were no 'mom and pop' shops for me to frequent, unless you count the corner store, and that was already run by immigrants (not that there's anything wrong with that). I loved the Miss Nona story the first time around. And she's still great.

    GOOD LUCK on your race tomorrow! Go out about 15-20 seconds slower on your pace for the first couple of miles, and then, when the first 5K is done, bump it up just a little. Even if you're not feeling strong the last mile, GO FOR IT and don't look back, what else are you going to use that energy for on a Saturday? You won't finish last, I promise.

  12. I love this story too. I am envious that you grew up in a town small enough for a Miss Nona and little store. I did some field work in a TINY town ...Causey New Mexico. There was a couple who owned a gas station/convience/little bit of this and that type store about 7 miles from the place where I was staying. I loved going in there and talking to the couple and looking at all the stuff they sold.

    Your story reminds me of that couple and their store in New Mexico. I miss that town.

  13. I looooooooooove the Miss Nona story!

    I wish I had that small town mentality.

  14. Wonderful story Bone! And it got me thinking about my Aunt Liddy, who ran Liddy's grocery that stood at the intersection of two country roads.

  15. Nah: It wasn't the Michigan deposit scam and there were no JFK golf clubs involved either. Just 8 kids (I had 3 brothers and my neighbors had 1 girl 3 boys too) scrounging everywhere for bottles (that part was a lot like the show, digging in dumpsters, checking the ditches, even checking behind the seat in Dad's truck!) and turn them in for candy or chips. I don't know how many summers we spent doing that.

  16. aLovely story. It reminds me of the town my grandparents lived in. Thankfully, the small stores there are still alive and kicking :) Wonderful story, thanks for sharing.

  17. Lass: Thanks for the race tips. I didn't finish last.

    Chickadee: Thanks. Glad I could bring back that memory for you.

    Blondie: Thank you, ma'am. Those places are hard to find even around here anymore.

    Sage: Awesome. Sounds like it may have been a similar place. Thanks for stopping by.

    Renee: I remember I collected cans one time, for like a year. Took them to the recycling place and got $10.

    Jen: Thank you. Glad to know there are still a few stores like that around.

  18. Loved this. People like Nona were/are touchstones in a community--more important than the Mayor (who comes and goes), dependable, helpful...worth remembering, and worthy of the tribute you paid to her. Well done.

  19. Just droped in to say hello. Hope you are well!!

  20. That reminds me that we have at least two bags of cans to take to the recycling place. Last time we got $14 for them! It was actually a field trip and we had the biggest amount of cans and one little girl cut her finger on a radiator (they recycle all sorts of stuff and the guy was showing us it all.) Darly hated the place because it was so noisy, but she loved the money.

  21. I've always enjoyed this story as well, so good flashback choice.

    I am running a 5K, which isn't as bad as a 10K and while I can run 3 miles, I still am making myself sick over it. Blah. Good luck.

  22. Mayden: Thank you. Glad to have some new readers that had never read this story before.

    Babs: Well, hello. Hope you are well, as well.

    Renee: Well, I was like 25 when I turned mine in, so $10 isn't quite the same then :)

    Heather B: Thank you, ma'am. Good luck on your run!