Country Store Memories, Part I: The Train Depot

My memories of the depot are fuzzy.  A large wooden counter separated the open room from the merchandise. There may have been benches for people waiting on the train — I do not remember. The depot was also where everyone got their mail. A bank of individual bronze-faced rectangular boxes lined the back wall. Box numbers were assigned (ours was P.O. Box 23) snd mail was accessed by turning the small gold pointer back and forth entering the appropriate combination.

The main room was quite big and open with a long wooden counter behind which Ruth Esther worked.  She was a local resident, married to a farmer and raising three sons who looked like their father and a daughter who favored her. I thought she was beautiful with her bright red lipstick and bright red fingernails. We never saw people wear lipstick or paint their nails much in those days. She was filled with kindness with such a gentle manner. If I close my eyes, I can still see the little scrunch in her eyes when she smiled. Ruth Esther sold penny candy to the kids. That was my big takeaway. I honestly do not know what else they sold because I was only interested in the candy.

Uploaded by TeVe, Railway turnout – Oulu Finland, marked as public domain, more details on Wikimedia Commons

Being a depot, there was a railway switch that could guide the trains to another track. For our community, the switch was used to route the trains off the track while stopped or as a holding place when the cars were not used. We loved it when that happened! That was a prime playground for us.

The resting railroad cars were never locked and there were never more than one or two cars parked at any given time. I have written before about the hours we spent playing there.

When the trains stopped carrying passengers, the depot closed. This would leave two stores in our little Valley and would inspire Ruth Esther to open her own. Join me tomorrow when I introduce you to Arthur who owned the store closest to my grandparent’s house.


Train Memories

Image Courtesy of Pixabay

I was too young to have ridden the excursion train to West Jefferson, NC. It would not be until much later in life that I learned that most of my ancestors hailed from that area thus the reason for the excursion. People were traveling to visit the family they left behind.

The train cars were often parked by the old train depot when not in use. Many of them were sleeper cars which I found fascinating. They were never locked and we spent many hours playing in those train cars as if they were toys. I can still close my eyes and see the old bunks which through my child’s eye looked like the most luxurious of exquisite hotel rooms.

We also put pennies or pop bottle lids on the tracks so the train would flatten them. That was until one day someone told us that such actions could derail the train. This seems entirely unlikely to me because of the weight and momentum of a train. Please hold while I engage Google. Seems the penny thing is an urban myth. I found no reference to pop bottle lids but I did not look very hard.

As children, we often had suckers (lollipops) tossed to us from the train. I have written about this before. It was a big deal to run down to the creek bank as the train went by in hopes of catching the cellophane-wrapped suckers they threw to the children. I recently read about how this started while visiting the museum in West Jefferson.

Anywhere we walked, we usually chose the railroad as the fastest path. We walked across cattle guards and learned to listen for the vibration indicating a train was en route. Crossing the trestle was always precarious for those (like me) who had a fear of heights.

I would not ride a train until my husband and I took the train from Switzerland to Venice. The Swiss train experience was totally different than our experience on the Italian trains. I was glad our travel agent advised us to buy first class passage on the Italian train. Otherwise, we would have likely been standing the entire trip from Milan to Venice.

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Soda Pop and More

Day 30

It’s funny what writing can bring up as you drift in and out of reality and the creation of a fictional world. I have heard we write best about what we know best. Maybe I would change that to say we write best what we remember best.

A Bottle of Pop

NehiA few days ago I snapped this photo of ‘Nehi Pop’. Yes, we called sodas ‘pop’. Nehi was one of the popular brand names. I loved ‘Nehi Grape’ as a kid. Sodas were a luxury for us and money was tight. Our best chance of buying something like that was to go around our small community, gathering discarded pop bottles and turning them in.

When everything was sold in glass bottles, you paid a deposit on the bottle so you would be encouraged to return them and get your deposit back. In my day, the deposit was two cents per bottle. Our little town was well known for its fresh water fishing streams and we always had an influx of fisherman during fishing season. Unfortunately, this increased the litter, but fortunately for us, the litter often meant discarded bottles along the creek banks.

I don’t remember what an average bottle of pop cost back then, but I know it did not take a lot of return bottles to buy a bottle of pop and maybe a MoonPie.

When Everything Was New

In our little community, the first 16 ounce soda to appear was Mr. Cola. It was a big deal especially to the kids. As children, I’m not sure we worried about brands or anything like that. We also drank Nehi, Chocolate Soldiers (similar to Yoo-Hoo), Royal Crown Cola, and of course eventually Tab and Diet Rite for people that could not have sugar. I do not remember people drinking diet sodas unless they were diabetic. I’m not sure when the diet soda rage began.

Other Treats

We had a lot of freedom as children. We roamed our community all day long with little or no supervision. We didn’t get in trouble (at least until we reached our teens) and were seldom hurt other than banging up an elbow or a knee.

One of our favorite past-times was to wait for the train to come through. Many of our community’s ancestors came from Ashe County, North Carolina. There was an excursion train that transported people back and forth to West Jefferson, NC.

On the days the train ran, we would gather on the other side of the creek waiting for the train to pass. The train track was on the other side of the creek and up about 50 feet or so higher than we were. As the engine came through, the men on the train would throw strands of cellophane wrapped ‘suckers’ (aka lollipops) across the creek to us. Some hit the creek, but lots made it into our outstretched arms. What a treat! Obviously we were never warned about taking candy from strangers.

On the Road

My Dad sometimes served as a lay minister and often preached on Sundays in a small church in Bulls Gap, TN. It was a long drive — especially when you are a kid who just wants to get out of Sunday clothes.

On the drive home, Dad would often stop and buy us each a Coca-Cola and a bag of salted peanuts. The coke had to be the 6 1/2 ounce bottle — because they tasted better or so we believed. Nothing like drinking a few sips of your coke and then pouring in the peanuts. It was so good. I cracked my teeth more times than I can remember trying to get that last peanut out of the bottom of the bottle.

I’m not sure if it was the treats or if it is the memories that surround the treats that make me feel so nostalgic. I don’t long to be back to those times, but I do cherish those moments. I am fortunate to have so many wonderful memories to look back on.

“Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment,
until it becomes a memory.”

Dr. Seuss