Saturday, June 12, 2010

Bubblegum and Tar

There was not a nicer man than Ernie B., a storekeeper in my rural town. His store was located diagonally across a highway from my childhood home. His store sang with activity during my childhood years. During warmer weather, I loved playing in my yard and watching.

Sometimes my brother would join me and we would sit on the slope of our yard watching people coming and going at the mercantile. More days than not, our friend Ernie would toss Bazooka™ bubblegum across the busy highway and into our yard encouraging us to catch it.

We did our best, my brother and me, but I don't remember ever catching our prizes in the air. We would greedily pick up the gum from the ground, remove the wrapper and comic, pop the sugary treat in our mouths chewing with vigor while reviewing the  comic. Ernie could have walked the bubblegum over at anytime, but he knew we enjoyed the challenge. Ernie was a very good man.

Visiting the country store was a treat. The store was small, but it housed the community’s Post Office and supplied grocery needs. Not only could you find people from the community getting their mail, but also visiting on the porch and in the store. For children, we loved to gaze upon the goodies and dream. When finances allowed, our folks would buy us a pop (as we called it) and sometimes a candy bar. I always chose RC (Royal Crown) Cola™ and a Butterfinger™ candy bar.

As I got older, I was thrilled and honored to be chosen to cross the highway to get our mail. It was an important responsibility and I was told by my mom to hold the mail tightly and never ever drop it or lose it. I remember clearly the day I did…drop something on the highway and walked on. But, without those experiences how can we really truly learn? After that, I hung on to the mail like my life depended on it.

The highway next to our home was dangerous for children. We were cautioned not to cross it without the help of our parents because of the traffic. But there was also another hazard to the road – the hot bubbly tar surface. Children, in my neck of the woods, loved going barefoot in the summer, I did too. (My feet still cry when winter arrives and I must shove them inside closed shoes.) You have to know me- to know -who I am and how I operate. If it is there, then I want to conquer. And I saw nothing wrong with running across the hot tarred bubbly highway with bare feet. After I crossed the highway, my feet tingled from the heated sappy substance that had adhered to the soles of my feet. I would pause on the well worn bench outside the store, and peel the sticky tar from my feet. If I didn’t I would have tracked it in the store (I was taught better than that) and also if I didn't remove the tar would have to endure the constant tackiness of my feet. My feet grew tough from those summer days.

Ernie has long since passed. His beloved store is now leaning -decaying -covered in vegetation. I think of him and his store occasionally with fond memories.

I am glad to have had the experience of bubblegum, country stores, tarred highways and rural roots.

Photo: Ernie's store - present day

The rural significance to me was a sense of community gathering places where a child could experience the people she knew and loved and who loved her in return. I lived a childhood of security. My mindset changed when I had children. I schooled them in the threat of strangers, what to look for and who not to trust.

I didn't feel threatened by anyone in my community as a child, until I was twelve, but that's another story for another time.

Does this story remind you of an experience you had as a child?

(This was a reworked post from my Journaling Woman blog.)


lakeviewer said...

I had similar, safe experiences in a small town. Lovely details!

Mary Aalgaard said...

Oh, man, I can see and feel the burn on your feet! I lived on a farm, so gravel roads surrounded my home. Yes, we were often barefoot. I once stepped on a bee! My foot swelled up really big. I also used to think that the small rural community was safer than the city.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Teresa .. we were schooled to watch out for strangers .. but we were at least allowed out - not now-a-days as much for some kids.

Rural communities are certainly places of learning - & yes we all experimented as kids .. and made mistakes!

Good times .. we weren't allowed chewing gum or bubble gum .. tried it occasionally when we on our own at the sweet shop - but don't bring it home! Never did get used to it ..

Have a peaceful Sunday .. Hilary

Anonymous said...

What wonderful experience to have! I don't recall much community in my youth prior to the age of three. At that point my family had moved to the Netherlands for a year and all our neighbors were in similar situations. I could go out and ride my tricycle, run to a neighbor's house and play and at no point did I feel the sense that fear of external sources was needed. Thank you for the memory jog and for sharing!

Anonymous said...


What happened to you other blog? I wasn't able to access it. Regardless, I love the Ruralhood theme. Its rural, but its The Hood. I love rural themes. I can certainly relate to it.

Stephen Tremp