At one time every small community in Trousdale County had its very own country store. A small store coupled with a nearby one-room school helped define a community.
Larger communities might have more than one store, but certainly would have a church or two, a blacksmith shop and sometimes, a small grist mill.
Those days are gone, but we can still see old abandoned store buildings here and there. They have become a part of the rural landscape like falling down barns and neglected cemeteries.
But at one time the small general store was the lifeblood of the rural community. People could shop for necessities, pick up their mail, pass the time with their neighbors, and – if nothing else – get out of their homes for a while or take a break from the back-breaking chores on the farm.
It was a treat for a small child to run to the store for their mother, to pick up a pound of sugar or a package of headache powders. If they were lucky, Mom would tell them to treat themselves to a nickel candy bar.
People looked forward to a walk down the road to the store, and the late Raymond Johnson told me he knew of a lady who would carry her shoes when she walked barefooted to Beal’s store in Cato. As soon as the store came in sight, she would slip into the shoes so that she would look nice and proper when she did her shopping. The shoes came off as soon as she was back out of sight of the store!
Fewer people can recall shopping at a true country store, so we are lucky that a few years ago Ralph Coker wrote down his recollections of his grandfather’s store in the Templo community in northeast Trousdale County. Someone had given me a photo of the store and Ralph had contacted me to see if I could make him a copy. Of course I did, and at the time I asked him if he had any information that I could include with the photo for our archives.
He generously agreed and here is his letter, in full:
Thanks so much for sending me a copy of the picture of my grandfather’s store. To give you a history of this store, it was built in 1939 and closed in 1959 due to the early death of my grandfather, Harve Coker, with cancer.
In the 40’s and 50’s Trousdale County was mostly a farming economy… country stores like Coker’s and others furnished food supplies for tenant farmers or sharecroppers, during the growing season and when the tobacco was sold, at the end of the year, they would settle their account.
Most of the time the landlord would agree to make good the account, but in those times people were honest and you hardly ever had a tenant farmer who didn’t pay off his account.
During World War II many items in the store were rationed or were very hard to get and you had to have coupons (or ration stamps) to get them.
I was a small boy but I can remember long lines of people waiting for the delivery truck to arrive to get these rationed items.
In 1950 my grandfather bought a 17 inch black and white television, making him the only one in the community to have one. Every night the store would be full of people watching television, but Saturday nights the crowd was huge to watch wrestling and they loved it. It was like a free trip to the movies because at this time the local theatre in Hartsville was still doing a good business.
The store stayed open seven days a week and the crowds were huge on Sunday morning since this was the time for the farmers to get together and discuss farming, politics, and other topics of interest… also, several of the men would play checkers and I got to be a good checker player by playing with these men.
The country stores of this era were a social center, and you could buy any item except fresh meats at the country store. They all sold gas and oil, feed for cattle, cloth for sewing, etc.
Our appreciation to Mr. Coker, and if any readers can add their own stories and recollections, please contact either The Vidette or myself. Thanks!