Life on Sand Mountain
Fred Roberts’ Store
For some, the store was the community center and to others I guess it was the senior citizen center.
If you wanted to get the latest news and neighborhood gossip, you could get it by hanging around the Fred Roberts’ Store. If you were retired and got tired of hanging around home or it was a rainy day and you couldn’t farm, you could go to the store and play a game of checkers or pitch pennies at a crack in the floor with other people.
Fred Roberts’ store was a general country store in the Blow Gourd community in Jackson County Alabama, on Sand Mountain, about three miles north of Pisgah and one mile south of the Gorham’s Bluff Resort. It was located at a five point intersection in the center of Blow Gourd, where County Roads 369, 359, 457, and 365 intersect with each other.
Fred sold about anything that a farm community would need. Groceries, gas, kerosene, clothes, material to make clothes, hardware, hog feed and fertilizer and cotton pick sacks. Fred was also a barber and had a shop at the back of the store.
The old store building was built during the early part of the 1900’s by Henry King, an early settler in the Blow Gourd community. Fred Roberts, bought the store in the 1940’s after he was discharged from the army. In the early 60’s, Lawrence Satterfield bought the store from Fred and made a few changes to the front and ran it for a few years, later he sold it to his nephew, Bobby Satterfield. Bobby tore the old store building down and built a new building. The store is idle nowadays.
The store was a narrow, long wooden building, with a storage area on the right side. There was a big cottonwood tree directly in front of the store, just a few feet from the porch. Fred had one gas pump and a coal oil tank with a hand cranked pump that sat on the front porch. The ground in front of the store was covered with all kinds of cold drink bottle caps.
I often went to the store for Mama to get a pack of cool-aide or a quarter’s worth of pinto beans or potatoes for supper, or a pound of bologna. Sometimes she would send me to get a pack of Camel cigarettes or a sack of roll your own Country Gentlemen tobacco. Yep, kids could buy any tobacco product back in those days.
My parents traded with Fred on credit and Mama bought groceries and paid him once a month. Mama always sent a list with me to the store because she didn’t want me to forget anything.
When I went to the store, Fred might be setting on his bench on the porch alone, or he would be inside waiting on a customer. If it was summer there might be some men sitting on the porch talking and or playing checkers. The checker board was a big homemade wooden board that laid on top of a wooden nail keg and the checkers were bottle caps.
As I walked through the front door, an aisle led from the front door to the back of the store. On each wall were shelves stocked with merchandise. On the left of the main aisle at the front of the store was a wooden and glass display cabinet for candy bars. At the end of the case was a counter where jars of packages of peanuts, Bobs, and hard candy sat. Bobs were packs of 4 brown cracker cookies filled with peanut butter and they sold for a nickel.
The only time I ever shoplifted was at the age of 10 in Fred’s store for a pack of Bob’s. Soon after that, I was at the store with a fortune, a whole dime, to buy whatever I wanted. So I bought a RC Cola and a Zero candy bar. They were a nickel each back then. But before I could pay Fred, I dropped the dime and it rolled away. Fred and I looked everywhere around that counter, but we never found that dime. I had to put my RC back and Fred put the Zero back. I considered that lost to be an omen and I never stole from a store again.
There was an opening at the end of the candy counter and then another counter where Fred took orders and the cash register sat. I can still picture Fred in his overalls, with a grocery list in his hands, running around the store, getting stuff off the shelves around the store and bringing it back to the counter. He would give a brown paper bag a sling to open it and put some groceries in it. He had an old cash register, that when you pressed a key, the amount showed up in a window at the top of it. He totaled your grocery bill up, using a lead pencil, to add the prices up on a brown paper bag, and if it was on credit, he wrote it down in a ticket book, gave you a carbon copy, leaving the original in the book.
Next to the counter and the cash register was a cooler where Fred kept meat and cheese and other deli products. He had two big rolls of paper, he wrapped bologna and cheese and stuff like that in the white paper and other stuff in brown paper. He sliced the bologna off in pieces, from a big long package shaped like a log with a butcher knife, rarely ever missing the pound mark.
A big pot belly coal burning stove sat in the back of the store. In the winter Fred would have it fired up and the men would be gathered around it. Some men would be playing checkers or pitching pennies at a crack in the wooden floor. Others would stand near the stove warming themselves and either spreading the latest gossip and news or just listening to the others talking. They would stand and warm one side of their body and then turn the other side of their body toward the heater. A favorite place to be was stand with your back to the stove and looking out a window at the back of the store.
Coming in the front door, to the right, was an ice cream box, and behind it more shelves, stocked with merchandise. A banana stalk always hung behind the ice cream box. Next there was a Coca Cola Box. It was full of ice water that kept cold drinks cold.
Everybody that bought a Coca Cola, always looked at the bottom of the bottle to see what city and state the bottle was made in. Sometimes if two men came in together they would play far away to see who paid for the cokes. Most everybody that came in and bought a coke offered to buy a one for everybody in the store. Now if he didn’t, he was talked about, after he left. But if a man accepted a coke, he could became the subject of gossip too, he always accepts a coke, but he never offers to buy anybody else one. Being a small boy I always felt that the offer was never meant for me. But anytime I had 5 cents for a coke I always felt guilty by not offering to buy somebody else one.
Sure wish I could get an ice cold RC out of one of those old fashion Coca Cola boxes right now and a Zero candy bar to go with it for a dime again.