You could divide the Valley into three parts, each divided by a bridge that crossed a creek. Clarence’s store was ‘above’ the orange Valley bridge. Even though it was the farthest for many residents, he carried more inventory than most.
Clarence’s store was an old wooden building. In the early days, he sold gasoline — the pump having three small plastic balls that floated around as the gas was pumped. Outside the store was a scattered array of old metal milk crates, turned upside down and used for makeshift stools.
Inside the store was a wooden counter with a base encased in glass. Clarence was almost always in the store, more often than not sitting around the old cast iron pot bellied stove where a game of checkers was always in play. This was the gathering spot and safe haven for the men in the Valley taking a break from the summer sun or the boredom associated with a cold winter and yapping women.
More often than not, you would find Clarence sitting in the back of the store jawing with someone when you entered the store. He would stand and meander over to the counter waiting for you to select your purchase.
The glass-front case protected the goodies from being handled by kids. These treats were usually things like horehound candy, licorice, Tootsie-Pops, Red Hots, Fireballs, Sugar Daddys, Mallow Cups, and Necco Wafers. On the counter were glass jars that contained individual cookies. There was often a cardboard display that contained Moon Pies and Nabs (Nabisco crackers).
Milk and drinks were kept in a cooler with doors than opened on a hinge from the top. Milk was often in glass jugs, produced by local farmers. The selections of pop ranged from King Cola (a local Virginia company), to Nehi Grape, Orange Crush, RC (Royal Crown), Mountain Dew (with its hillbilly graphics), Yoo-Hoo and Chocolate Soldiers (both chocolate drinks), and of course 7-Up. Oddly, I do not remember drinking much Pepsi or Coke. Trust me — pop pulled from one of those coolers was the coldest I’ve ever had! There was a bottle opener on the side so you could pop the top and drink your pop on the walk home.
Of course, Clarence sold things to adults, too. Corn meal and flour, a small selection of canned foods, bread, fishing lures and of course tobacco products (chewing tobacco, snuff, and cigarettes). Chewing tobacco was the favorite for many farmers and snuff was used by a lot of the older generation women.
Clarence spoke with a slow drawl. Once you made your selection, he would do his figuring on the side of an unfolded paper bag while he spoke as he computed: “2 and 2 is four, plus 7 is eleven carry the one.” It would all be written on the side of the bag he put your purchases in.
Clarence had the misfortune of living beside the store. I can remember so many times my grandmother saying “Go up and ask Clarence to open the store. I need some shortening.” Oftentimes, his wife, Mary Ellen, would open the store on these out of hour requests.
Almost everyone in the Valley had a tab at Clarence’s. I assume this was because people only got paid at harvest time, or perhaps at the end of the month when checks would come in. People were honest. No one would think about reneging on what they owed him. I liked Clarence. I can still see his face vividly.
When Clarence passed away, his son Eddie took over the store. It soon became “Eddie’s store” and a new block building was built beside the old store. The gas pumps were long gone, but the milk crates and checkerboard remained. Eddie passed away last year. It is hard to think this will be the end of such a long legacy.