By Virginia R. Manuel
Well, when I was growing up there were little country stores everywhere; most were family run. Our particular favorite was what we called Berthel's. It was run by Berthel herself. Berthel was a large lady. She and her husband lived on a hill above the store.
The store was really small, just two rooms; one was a storeroom and the other the main part of the store. In the store she sold groceries, pop and ice cream and in the back room she kept things like sacks of feed and sometimes fertilizer. She also kept kerosene, oil and various other things she sold.
It had large windows in front; the seats were wooden benches and in the middle was a potbellied stove. There was one wooden ladderback chair that sat by the stove, but you didn't want to sit there. That was Berthel's chair and everybody knew it. When she was not busy she always sat in the chair by the stove.
There were two gas pumps out front where you could buy a dollar's worth of gas. That is, if you had a car. Berthel wouldn't let you pump your own gas. She had to pump it for you so you would get the right amount and she knew how much you owed her for it.
There was a big field next to the store which was planted in beans. In the summer when the beans were ready to be picked it would be full of bean pickers. At lunch we would all go over to Berthels to get bologna and cheese sandwich or bologna and crackers for lunch. You could get a really big lunch, a pop, a thick slice of bologna and a cracker, a bag of potato chips, a candy bar and an ice cream all for a quarter.
There were no restrooms but there was a new outhouse out back. She used to keep old catalogs for paper, and an old broom setting in the corner for sweeping up. A couple of boys snuck in there about dark one night and set the broom on fire and stuck it down the toilet hole and caught the toilet on fire. It was in such a shape a new one had to be built. Berthel never left a broom in the toilet anymore.
The school bus would stop there to drop off the kids who went to high school and another bus from Butler would come along and take them to Mountain City to the high school. Elementary school kids were expected to stay on the bus; however, if you talked to the bus driver he would sometimes let you stay there while he made his rounds and pick you up on the way back. If you acted up in the store she told the bus driver and you were kept on the bus.
The store was about a mile from where we lived. It was a treat for us to get a ride to the store, otherwise we had to walk. If we had a nickel or a dime we always went to the store. We could buy a pack of “tater chips” and a bottle of pop out of the cooler for a dime. If you only had a nickel it was a choice.
Now the pop cooler was a different story. All the pop sat in icy cold water and it all came in bottles; there was no canned pop in those days. Pop tabs hadn't even been thought of. We would look through the cooler to buy the right kind of pop. RC, Nehi, Orange Crush, Pepsi, Coca Cola, Dr. Pepper and Hires Root Beer were the favorites. If you took your pop away from the store you had to pay a two-cent deposit on the bottle. When you brought your bottle back, she gave you your two cents back. Sometimes when we walked to the store we would look along side the road for pop bottles people had thrown out and take those and cash them in. Sometimes we would borrow magazines from the neighbor lady and cut out the cents-off coupons and trade them for cash to buy candy.
There was an old man by the name of Pop who lived about a half mile up the road. It was in the middle of summer and he had been out working and was real thirsty so he stopped into Berthel's to get a Nehi Orange. Some other fellers come in and they all sat down on a bench and started talking. When they got up to leave Pop got up and walked out with them and forgot about paying for his drink. He walked up the road by the washhouse and to his driveway and was almost at his back door when he felt a tap on his shoulder. He turned around and it was Berthel. “Pop, you didn't pay for your drink, you owe me a nickel,” she said. Of course she got her nickel.
The store was a favorite meeting place for all the friends and neighbors; the farmers would come in and sit around and have a bottle of pop and talk about the news, weather, crops, etc. She usually closed at 7 o'clock but more often than not the neighbors would get together in the cool of the evening and do some singing, mostly gospel songs. Sometimes maybe there would be a “hot” Rook game going on. In that case she stayed open till the last neighbor had left.
Berthel retired and leased it to other people for awhile but it was never the same. The store is now gone but the memories of a cold pop on a hot day still remain and give one a “warm fuzzy feeling” that brightens up an otherwise dull winter day.
By Virginia R. Manuel