The little store that was
By Bill Shepard
I awoke this morning with old memories tugging at my mind. As usual, they seemed anxious to return to a time long ago. There was nothing new about that; it happens often and I am always willing to oblige.
I lay in bed for a while and allowed my mind to plunder around in places long erased, so I though. Yesterday’s Thanksgiving memories, fresh in my mind, were tucked safely away by the side of those from many years past. They will return another at another time, maybe? I have been asked why I dwell so much in my past, and I usually have the answer ready – “the world seemed a more peaceful place and memories so pleasant.”
For some reason, unknown to me, while plundering among the memories of my past, I came upon what I like to think of as the first self-service grocery store in the town of Darlington. Someone can correct me, if I am wrong. Can you remember, as I do, a time when you went grocery shopping and was met by a friendly clerk who would ask, “What can I get for you?” You told the clerk what you needed, and he went behind the counter and took the item from the shelf, placed it on the counter before you, and then asked, “What else?” That would continue until all the items that you needed were in a space on the counter. Most likely, you would say, “Charge it,” referring to the cost of the items.
Long before modern self-service stores came into existence, there was on Phillip Street in Darlington. The little store was located just across the railroad track from where I lived as a boy. How long the store was there, I do not know. It was there for as far back as this writer can remember, and the small building remains there until this day. Ah, the stories its walls have absorbed, what if those walls could talk?
The first owner and operator of the small store was friendly old man (old because I was a little boy, not even 10 yet) who everyone called Uncle Pas. His name was J. R. Goodson. Like everyone else, I called him “Uncle Pas!” He was a crippled man and could move about only by the use of a straight chair that he held onto, as he moved. I suppose he was too heavy to use a crutch or a walking cane. I never saw him attempt to use anything other than the chair; walkers had not been heard of at that time. The little store was separated from the house where he lived, by only a few feet. Even so, it would often take house for him to move that short distance.
Inside the store, Uncle Pas sat in a large rocking chair at the center of the small building. If the time were winter, a fire would be burning inside a little coal burning heater. If in the summer, the old man would be sitting near the back door where a summer breeze would blow in.
I truly loved the old man, and I think he loved me! I was a frequent visitor at the store, often helping to do little things that he would ask. In the winter, I would carry out the ashes from the heater, sweep the floor, and unpack items that had been delivered from the warehouses. He had ordered the items from the various salesmen that came by the store. If a customer came in, Uncle Pas would often say to me, “Wait on a customer, Bill.” I knew where everything in the little store was located.
Uncle Pas always wore a large apron that covered his body, and had a huge pocket in its front. The pocket served as his cash register where the money was kept. Also, the charge pad was there. After getting an item, the customer would hand Uncle Pas the money, or most likely say, “Charge it!” The old man would then write the person’s name and the cost of the item in his little charge pad. Payday was on Saturdays, after the customer was paid for the week’s work at the mill.
Later, the little store came under the management of Uncle Pas’ son-in-law, Lamar Gilchrist. A few reading this might remember that name. At the time of which I write, Lamar worked as a bookkeeper at the Carolina Power and Light Co. on Cashua Street in Darlington.
My last memories of Uncle Pas were made just days before he died. I was a budding teenager, and he was dying. I went to see him and we talked for a short while. It was a cold winter’s day = I should not know that his leaving was so near or I might have visited a little longer.
Self service grocery stores (the kind we all know today) came later and to stay, but the one that lives in my memory disappeared a long time ago. The building still stands and is occupied, but not as a self service grocery store!
Mr. Shepard is a native of Darlington, S.C., and a current resident of Piedmont, S.C. and 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