Owner of Collins Country Store
The country store was a part of my growing up years, for my grandfather, Francis Jasper Collins, better known as “Bud” Collins, owned and operated one. My family went to his store to trade for items such as coffee, sugar, pinto beans, and lard, if our farm supply gave out. Then there was the clothing and merchandise section where some of the simpler necessities of country living could be bought—cloth by the yard, sewing needs, socks, hose and underwear, men’s chambray work shirts, overalls, and even at times, utilitarian shoes, but not dress shoes.
The country store was especially useful at Christmas time. In those depression years when cash was hard to come by and most farm families depended upon what they could produce on the farm to keep their families supplied with the barest necessities, not much was purchased at the country store. But Grandpa, with Mr. Garn Fortenberry as the driver for his truck, would somehow manage to go to Gainesville with a load of live chickens, eggs in crates, and dried animal skins that had been bartered for goods at his store, and take the load to Carter’s Wholesale Company or another of the wholesale distributors to get in trade there what he could to bring back to his Country Store in Choestoe.
Families in the community kept up with which day of the week the Collins Country Store would bring a load from Gainesville to restock the shelves of the little store. Garn and Grandpa would often get back home just at nightfall, so the next day would be the best time to go for a good pick over the new supply of goodies. Near Christmas, there would be sacks of oranges and tangerines, these fruits from the warm clime of Florida, brought to our Choestoe hills to be the delight of children on Christmas morning as they found them in the stockings they had “hung by the chimney with care.” Rare nuts, too, like pecans (not grown in the mountains) and Brazil nuts and pistachios would be in boxes so that a pound or half-pound could be weighed out as families could afford them.
Grandpa had a candy counter on which sat a large four-sided glass case. Near Christmas that case had all sorts of delectable-looking confections displayed in open boxes. Peppermint, licorice and lemon stick candy were among the offerings, as were the ever-appealing chocolate drops. Maybe sometimes there would be a few boxes of chocolate-covered cherries, but these were few, as Grandpa knew not many among his country store constituents could afford a whole box of these delicacies.
He had some toys, but not a wide variety. Bags of marbles, cans of pick-up-sticks, checker-boards, Chinese checkers, a few dolls, and some miniature automobiles were among his offerings. Thinking about it now, these may have been “special orders,” since they were so few, requested by parents in advance for their children who wanted these items from Santa Claus at Christmas. I can remember on Christmas morning wondering if I had not seen something I received at Grandpa’s store earlier—and how did Santa Claus then get it to bring beside our fireplace for me?
The country store also provided school supplies: Blue Horse tablets writing paper and penny pencils. And before school was out at Christmas, we nearly always could find at his store a gift for the one whose name we had drawn at Choestoe School, and thus fulfill our obligation of getting the gift for that person to put under our school tree.
Going to the store was an adventure. Since most of the trade was in barter, we had to catch the chickens we planned to offer as barter and safely pack the eggs used in trade. If Daddy had been successful in catching rabbits in his “rabbit trap,” he might have several dried and stretched skins of rabbits to offer in trade. And we nearly always had sorghum syrup to take for barter, because he was the champion syrup-maker of Choestoe.
Looking back now on this way of life, we didn’t know it if we were poor, for we always seemed to have plenty of the necessities of life: food, homemade clothing, shelter. Our farm produced well, even in the depression years. And enterprising Grandfather, up until his death in December of 1941 (ten days after the infamous Pearl Harbor bombing that started World War II) saw that his country store was maintained. After his death, his daughters and sons discovered that Grandpa had many people “on the books” to whom he had extended credit when they were unable to pay for items they needed from his country store. Likewise, he had loaned money when people were in dire circumstances. And his philosophy was not to take an “I-O-U” for same, for he said if a handshake and a man’s word did not mean they would pay back the loan, a piece of paper was little assurance that a debt would be collected. Over many of them he had written, “debt forgiven.” Some, after his death, came to pay their long-standing debt. His compassion was extended through his country store.
At Grandpa’s Country Store the spirit of Christmas lasted all year long.
c2010 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published Dec. 9, 2010 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.