You hear a lot of stereotypes about the south, fried foods, collard greens, pecan pies, and more. But, one I don’t hear enough of, one that was pretty much a staple of my childhood is the Country Store.
Looking more like a shack than an establishment, Mr. Connie’s was the quintessential Country Store located in the middle of highway 375 with no sign of civilization for miles. The old-timers sat on rockers in front of the building by the gas pumps, gabbing about crops and the way things used to be as my mother and I went inside to browse.
While momma talked with Mr. Connie, I’d head to the back of the store and watch the worms burrow into the dirt inside of the coffee cans. Cane poles sat next to them with the promise of a good catch of brim. The smell of boiled peanuts filled the entire area, and the salt had my mouth-watering.
I’ve never been one for sweets, my tastes veer towards the acidic variety, but I attest that to being a Floridian. A place where tangy, tropical fruit and sour citrus are plentiful and used in all aspects of South Florida life.
While my mother shopped, Mr. Connie would hand me a dill pickle wrapped in white paper. The giant of a cucumber had been sitting in a jar since the Civil War, absorbing every bit of that vinegar, until it turned white. Soft and sumptuous, the first bite caused my jaw to tingle and the juice to dribble down my chin.
Sooner than my liking, we would have to leave Mr. Connie’s Country Store with our homemade jams, Tupelo honey and the anticipation of the next visit.
Country Stores have been driven out by big corporations or just the dwindling state of our economy, but many have tried to emulate that nostalgic, familial business. Some have accomplished, and I’ve watched them flourish in small communities and played my part as the loyal consumer.
I’m hoping one day, to go back to Smith Creek, Florida and spot that old, dilapidated building in the middle of nowhere. I’ll step onto the porch and greet the old men that are whittling the day away, then head into the store, relishing in that squeaky door announcing my arrival. I’ll go to the counter where my lovely dill’s still sit, waiting for me. I only hope to hear, “Welcome home, Natalie.” from Mr. Connie as I dip my hand inside to take one.