Life is full of regrets large and small, and one is that I never got to interview Ms. Helen Anderson.
Ms. Anderson, who died a few days ago, ran at Jug Fork what was probably the last true country store in Union County. She had done so for half a century.
I had wanted to do a story on her for the past few years but it never happened, partly due to her worsening health, and partly due to the idea simply getting mixed in with all the other stories going on.
I didn’t really know her, but we undoubtedly are poorer with her loss. And our culture and heritage lose something with the passing of country stores.
If historic downtown is the heart of New Albany, then the myriad country stores that once existed were the hearts of their respective communities. And in those days the communities still had proud and distinctive identities.
Roads were not great, there was work to be done on the farm and driving into town might not happen more than once or twice a month, if that. The local small stores were indeed the community centers.
While the stores may have been similar, each had its own character, of course.
One of my many jobs in my distant youth was carrying a bush blade for the Soil Conservation Service and our crew must have visited most of the country stores in North Mississippi.
Nearly all were wooden structures (although they began to be usurped by the less aesthetically pleasing concrete block buildings) with well-used porches. You could always count on getting a can of Vie-ennas and a pack of crackers, a thick hand-cut slice of bologna or a wedge of honest-to-goodness hoop cheese with a cold soft drink to help wash it down.
You were almost always welcome, although an occasional curmudgeonly proprietor could be found.
Most stores had their own cast of characters, nearly all of whom, sadly, are now gone, with their outrageous lies and sometimes villainous practical jokes on each other.
In addition the more predictable stock grocery and quasi-automotive inventory to fill most home needs, the country stores always seem to have a collection of bizarre novelties for sale, possibly foisted off on them decades previous by enterprising traveling salesmen. (Does one really need a special opener to pry the lid off a tin of Copenhagen snuff? Or a Japanese tin windproof lighter than looks like a Victorian steam engine? I wish I could remember more but many were unusual enough that they eluded good description.)
So going to a country store was a bit of an adventure, and you always learned things, many of which were true.
But you got a sense of community and neighborliness, people willing to help each other with being asked, and a sense of continuity of the generations of families who made up the community. The country store was in a way a reflection of who the people were.
I do talk with many people at Wal-Mart but the romance of the country store will never be found on Aisle 7, and likely will never be seen again. Also, I fear, Wal-Mart is a reflection of who we are.
Helen Anderson Obituary: https://www.nemiss.news/helen-gwendolyn-anderson-88/
country store, Helen Anderson, New Albany, recollection, Union County