The Greenfield General Store and The Path
The center of my hometown from birth to my first legal beer was the Greenfield General Store. The store anchored the village dead center. All small town general stores in the first half-century were modeled in it’s image. My home was paint-peeling white and just one house to the north. A hard packed dirt path ran down one side of the village. There were no sidewalks within six miles of my childhood home. “The Path” would turn out to be the lifeline of my world for the first eight years of existence. I would learn to ride my bike on, “The Path” and at the age of six pulled over my first speeder with the sky-blue police-bicycle my father had rescued, repaired, repainted, and recycled for my five-candled birthday. I have owned many bicycles, motorcycles, cars, and trucks over many decades; that simple sky-blue bicycle, with the chrome wheels and coaster brakes, still carries the most cherished memories. The reason is obvious.
The Greenfield General Store down “The Path,” with one house in between, was right out of Mayberry RFD. “Quaint” would fit it perfectly. The store’s main attraction was a weathered and initial-carved bench that held more stories than a big-city library. I would gladly pay a month’s salary for that bench today. That bench graced the store’s porch for decades. The initials carved in its’ seat and solid spruce back, spanned generations of small-town hand-holding teenagers. It held quiet evidence of late night raids by brave young boys with cheap steel jackknives they’d won at the county fair. Attempting to crack the codes of a heart-filled JG+PB or Billy(?)Was Here”, was a favorite pastime of its seated visitors. On pre-Halloween, Cabbage Night, the brave bench would find itself perched atop the store’s porch roof or on the stoop of the Town Hall across the street. With no hint of distress the bench would simply return to duty, smiling with the knowledge of childhood pranks gently done, and highly regarded.
Inside the old dry-hinged screen door with the Wonder Bread push bar lay a vast world of penny-candy filled display cases, heavy oak counters, ice cold soda coolers, and hanging fly strips yellowed and busy. Creaky wooden floors with a spongey-give worn smooth by work boots and PF Flyers ran front to back. A real-life butcher block could be found tucked in the stores back acre. A large brown roll of meat wrapping paper and white twine lay poised for the next hand trimmed steak. There is something unforgettable about the smell of a butcher’s domain. The mix of damp sawdust and aged beef trimmings permeates the temples and settles deep in the mind’s recesses only to return instantly with the thunderous thud of a heavy cleaver as it lops of a thick hunk of red grainy beef.
The store’s owner at the time of my earliest recollection was named Harry. He was wiry old character with wavy grey hair anyone over the age of fifty would kill for. Harry portrayed grumpy but it was an act. Old men who pin nicknames on young children aren’t grumpy they’re only upset they can’t go back and do it over. Harry tagged me with the name, “Johnny Jump-Up.” With a gentle gruffness he would threaten to, “pin my ears back.” I was never afraid.
There was an eight foot long glass display case full of penny-candy just inside the front door. It was the centerpiece of the store and it attracted wide-eyed children and adults alike. Bazooka bubble gum, Tootsie Rolls, and strings of red and black licorice filled the hand-smudged giant. I recall one hot summer day around 1960. I was five and in the store with my beautiful young mother in the yellow and white sundress. A salesman came in just as we were leaving. He asked my mother if we would like to sample a new soda. He had sample cups and bottles of the new beverage. It’s name was Mountain Dew. I can taste that small paper cup sample today. Funny how those simple country moments embed themselves in your mind just a fraction below the surface, always ready for easy retrieval when happy thoughts are needed.
The Greenfield General Store would embrace a handful of different owners through the years. As a pre-teen I worked for one of them after school and on Saturday afternoons. In a world just minutes ahead of child labor laws and hours before my generation, another generation was about to be enveloped in play-less lives inside the so called safe walls of their homes. I was fortunate enough to experience the joy of being a grocery shelf and soda cooler stocker, a floor sweeper, and a trash collector. I earned large sums of loose change, free ice cream and a life long work ethic. Old straw brooms and heavy metal dustpans were my tools of choice. No child was harmed in the formation of responsible young persons in the 1960’s. It was healthy to work. It was good to own blisters from raking leaves and digging potatoes. It was fun to fill pickup trucks with bales of hay. Itchy arms and sweat soaked white t-shirts were normal and expected. The Greenfield General Store was a large part of my young life and though it has been retired to the boredom of office space it will remain a large portion of my fondest memories.