You could hear the distant sound of a tractor heading up the valley road. “Chossy” (Josiah Zechman, as he was known to valley residents) was coming out from his farm for his evening refreshment. It was 1948, a simpler time of party phone lines, flat head engines and cook stoves. But the rising innovation of the twentieth century was on the horizon. With the baby boomers generation in full swing a whole tidal wave of change was moving across the countryside. Some of the things the residents treasured would pass away so gradually they would hardly even notice.
Neighbors still knew each other by first names, and communicated on a daily basis. People needed rest after a long days work, instead of exercise. They didn’t hesitate to help a neighbor build their home, gather crops, or even help raise one another’s children. A mischievous youngster couldn’t get away with skipping school with a whole caring community looking on.
The small Green Point hamlet in northern Lebanon county PA was tucked between the first and second of the Blue Ridge mountains east of the Indiantown Gap military reservation. The community consisted of a two-mile stretch of farmettes and small family homesteads with a country store and fire house plopped right in the middle and a church on both ends of the valley like bookends holding everything in place.
The humidity in the air of the warm summer evening was thick and sweltering. Chossy came over the hill and pulled his big red Farmall tractor into A.J.Wolfe’s little country store. He mopped his brow with his shirtsleeve, greeted the “regulars” sitting in their usual places on the front porch benches and headed inside. Stepping up to the counter he ordered the usual, a cantaloupe cut in half, scooped out and filled with vanilla ice cream. Still in his bib overalls from a hard day on his farm, he sauntered out to the front porch with his cool summer treat and joined in the evening discussion already in progress. In the winter time they would gather inside around the warm heatrola coal stove and swap stories and opinions of the days events amidst the swirls of smoke from their pipes, cigarettes and cigars.
This was life around a typical country store. The landscape of our state was dotted with hundreds of them until the competition of large grocery stores and the mobility of residents created circumstances which caused their demise. They could no longer compete and simply faded out of sight. There are not many people under 40 who even remember them. But for those of us who do the memories are heart warming and unique.
Hearing a ringing bell from the front door the owner would typically appear from behind a curtain drawn across a doorway behind the counter which usually led into his living quarters. He would greet the customers by their first names and usually inquire of their families welfare. The tongue and groove floor boards would provide a chorus of squeaks and groans as customers walked the bulging isles among the sticky fly catchers hanging from the ceiling. Distinct aromas from fresh ground spices, baked goods, Lebanon bologna or the molasses barrel by the counter filled the air. It sure wasn’t Walmart, but they somehow found room for all the essentials a person needed. Bib overalls, dry goods, canned goods, kerosene heaters, bulk cookies, dried apricots and ground coconut to mention just a few.
You could try on shoes or boots, pick up muskrat traps, buy ammunition and shop for clothing and groceries all on the same stop! You could even buy ice from their ice house which was stored in layers of saw dust after being cut from their frozen pond in the winter time. Some residents would come in carrying fresh cream from their small milk farms or eggs from their hen-house to barter for needed supplies. The store owner would welcome them and send them home with a fresh supply of sugar and flour, not to mention some sugar drops, Mary Janes or huge malted milk balls to boot. Since many residents didn’t have automobiles they would depend on the stores delivery truck. In the morning the truck would deliver kerosene and pick up grocery lists with would be filled and delivered that afternoon.
In addition to groceries, country stores provided something that many towns now lack, which is a sense of closeness, communication and community. It was a place where neighbors could gather for conversation, seek help or advice, or share a burden. They could do so while sitting on the front porch enjoying a creamcicle or soft drink pulled from the chilled water of the soda cooler.
Chossy fired up his tractor around closing time, waved to his friends on the porch and started back home amidst the sounds of the crickets in the surrounding woods which were beginning their night-time chorus. If you drive through the little valley today you will still find the store but the shelves are bare, the porch is sagging and the paint is peeling. Like the echoes from Chossy’s tractor growing faint as he headed out the valley road, the echoes of the country store era have also grown faint across the annals of our time but the needs of human beings for friendship, caring and community still remain. (first published in January of 1997)