The Grocery List
By Bill Shepard
There is a lot that can be said in favor of the way that most of the folk that I knew did their grocery shopping, I think of it often when I am at the store shopping for groceries and occasionally I will say something to the cashier about it. Like a few days ago when the young cashier finished and said, “Your total is sixty-four dollars,” and I smiled and said, “All I came to get was a loaf of bread!” That was when I thought of the grocery list again. As I said, I think of it often when I’m doing my shopping.
The grocery list was popular before the time of Self Service stores. When I was a boy nearly everyone on the mill village where I grew up did all of their shopping at the large company owned store that was conveniently located near the sprawling mill village. It was easily accessible by foot and that was a good thing as there were few car owners on the village. It could be said that the life of the village folk revolved around the big mill, the store, and the village itself. A hit song out of the past, “I Owed My Soul To The Company Store” summed it up well. Long before the forty hour work week went into effect, a worker’s day was twelve hours, six to six! My dad would leave our house at 5:30a.m. and return at 6:30 p.m. The mill operated only one shift a day during that period. Few can remember those times!
During my pre-school years, I often made the trip to the Company Store with my mama. When my older brothers would go off to school, my mama and I would often leave for the company store! Mama would walk slowly and I would saunter behind, stooping now and then to pick up a rock and see how far I could throw it at nothing in particular. We would pass along the path that led by the noisy old mill and I would gaze upwards hoping to see someone I knew leaning from a large window. Often I did! Not far beyond the mill the Company Store would come into view and I would hasten my steps to catch up withmama.
The Company Store was always a busy place. We would enter through one of the large doors and be greeted by one of the several clerks inside the store. We had a favorite clerk whose name was Mr. Todd. He was a jolly fellow, always smiling and laughing. I had come to expect a small sack of candy every time I visited the store and Mr. Todd never allowed me to leave the store disappointed. Before leaving he would get a small paper sack and fill it with candy then say to me, “Bill, divide the candy with your brothers!” Sometimes I would!
Mama would give her grocery list to Mr. Todd. Before leaving home she would have written on a piece of paper the things she needed, she called it her grocery list. There was no chance that she would buy anything that she did not need! Unlike today when her son visits the store for a loaf of bread and returns with much more!
The groceries mama had ordered would be delivered on that day or the one following. The delivery man was named Fred and he was loved and respected by all who knew him. Fred drove a large red horse hitched to a pretty green wagon with brightly painted red wheels. I liked it when he came to our house and I would ask him for the box that he had our groceries in. He would come to the kitchen table and take the items from the box, checking them off the list as he placed them on the table. If an item was missing he would explain why. Before leaving I would ask for the empty box. He’d very seldom give a wooden box away but the cardboard boxes were often left behind.
When I grew older it became my chore to make the errand to the Company Store alone, and when I became older still, the trek to the Company Store, and especially those alongside my mama became golden memories. They return often, especially at times when I go to the store and return with much more than I went for!
Note: Remember when you drove to the gas station in your car and before you were asked how many gallons of gas you wanted? Someone washed your windshield, checked your oil and the air in your tires, then swept the floorboards, front and back, then politely asked, how many? You paid him one dollar for five gallons of gas and drove away. Those were the days before the self-service stores appeared!
Note: Thanks to readers from Lamar and Hartsville for your kind words and book orders. Both say they enjoy the News and Press. Thanks for staying in touch!
Mr. Shepard is a native of Darlington, S.C., and a current resident of Piedmont, S.C. He is the author of “Mill Town Boy” and “Bruised”. He has been sharing his tales of growing up in Darlington for decades, and we are delighted to share them each week.
His mailing address for cards and letters is: Bill Shepard 324 Sunny Lane, Piedmont, S.C. 29673.