Friday, June 30, 2006

From Another Time

Since I was a teenager, I have read The New York Times. No, I'm not that smart and worldly - I skip most sections and just go to the parts I like - fashion, food, business, the arts. When I moved to the country, I was at home with an baby and I didn't know anyone except Mark's family. And I was missing the cultural stimulation I was close to in eastern Massachusetts. Since it's not here - at least in cityish terms - I started buying The New York Times regularly again to get my culture-city-trend fix. Wednesdays (Food), Thursdays (House and Home, Fashion), and Sundays, I drove twenty minutes to the little town of Bernardston and picked it up at Streeter's Store. Pretty soon, it became a chore to remember but if I didn't read it, I missed it. I know - I could have looked at it on line. I'm an old-fashioned girl - I like the feel, the smell, the inconvenience of the large size - I like to hold my news in my hands and get them dirty with ink. And besides, with a dial-up connection, it takes forever to download a page of the Times.

So, I asked Eunice, one of the Streeter's, if she would hold three papers a week for me. She said she would try, but that it would be difficult. I told her it would be okay if she screwed up. They never have in over five years. Now, I only have to travel to pick up my paper once a week if I'm not going by and I get my culture fix.

When I started going to Streeter's, I never paid much attention to the surroundings or to the people working there. I was polite but I wasn't used to the small town pleasantries. When I lived in the Pepperell, I was invisible. I barely knew my neighbors names. I drove to work in Lowell everday, flew on a lot of planes, and never got involved. On weekends, we came here quickly but left. When we moved here, back to Mark's hometown, I was by myself, working in my studio, taking my daughter to school, doctor's appointments, doing the grocery shopping. My opportunities for meeting friends were limited. So the shopowners of the places I frequent have become our friends. This is such a strange thing for me. I've never been a "regular" anyplace - at least since I was a kid with my parents. Even then, the town was so large, it was easy to be anonymous. We were the family with all the little girls - kristinlynnlaurienancyjennifer.

I have completely surprised myself. I love being a "regular." People call me by name (okay - either by Mark's last name - "Mrs. Duprey" (who's that?) or by the most common "Julia's mom"). Once in awhile, someone will call me Kristin. Those must be people who know me really well.

I have become so fascinated with small town culture - specifically the entire culture at Streeter's Store. For Bernardston, this is Walmart. From where I live, I have to travel almost an hour to get to any big box retailer. I save a lot of money not shopping and not buying gas. That's a good thing - I have enough ugly plastic in my house (kid's toys). I don't miss having that opportunity, at all.

Every week, at Streeter's, I pick up my paper here --

But first I have to step by Whitey Streeter who holds court on this park bench next to the paper box. Whitey is a little bit like the town crier. If you need information, ask him. He probably knows it or will find out for you. On June 28th, he turned 86 years old. He told me the other day, he has been sitting on that bench since he was seven years old. WOW! What a chunk of small town history. Whitey is usually surrounded by men talking about the weather, hunting, town politics. He is polite and charming and when he was young, he had to be incredibly handsome - he still is. Each week, I look forward to seeing him as does Julia.

When I started thinking about this idea for a post, I started delving into the recesses of Streeter's store. They just have everything I need here.

I can buy my sewing supplies --

I can supply my kitchen with a whole collection of pots and pans --

I can purchase cleaning tools --

Mark can buy his entire wardrobe here - wool and flannel shirts, bright orange hunting gear (so when he is working in the woods, the hunters won't shoot him), jackets, boots. What else does he need?

Colorful cotton bandanas great you at the door - if you look up. I could make a great quilt out of them.

You can buy a chain saw, oil, nuts, bolts, screws and other hardware supplies, woodstove parts.... the list is endless. You can even buy a tractor. Mark bought his Massey Ferguson from them. They're the oldest Massey dealership in New England.

I can even show my daughter a picture of the grandfather she never knew (and the father-in-law I never knew) on this great old framed collage of local boys serving in the Second World War. (Norman is the third from the left on the first full row down.) If I mention Norman's name, I'll get a story or two from Whitey or Eunice who went to school with him. Where else would this happen?

If you are driving on Route 91 north, take the last exit in Massachusetts (Bernardston). Go about 200 yards. You'll find Streeter's on the left. Stop in and say hi. Poke around and find a bargain. Strike up a conversation. You'll feel like you stepped back forty years. It's a great feeling. I'm so lucky to be able to go there whenever I want.

Maybe your town still has a place like this. Consider yourself lucky - most Americans don't. The mall culture is invading all the corners of the country. It's okay to shop at the mall - just open your eyes to what else is around you. Support the little guy!

Gotta run to Streeter's to pick up our Fourth of July flags. We're getting our piglets on the 4th and we need to decorate the "Pig Palace." I hope Streeter's has them.


Susanne said...

Oh my what memories your post brought to me. My Dad had the "Hardware" Store in Pense, Saskatchewan,(a western Canadian province). It was a very small town with lots of characters, many like Whitey Streeter. My Dad was forced to sell that business, well actually close it, when the highways improved and the farmers and customers could drive much more easily and safely to two large cities either side of our little town. We moved to the "city" as a result but my constant childhood memories are of quiet, sunfilled afternoons, smelling the grass, watching the waving wheat, golden in the sun and listening to the meadowlarks all around. My dream is still to live in a small town someday..(need to get busy as I am just shy of 60), mostly for the ambience, relaxed style of commerce and just plain close to the earth.
Thanks for a wonderful post and if I was closer and they had Canadian flags in stock, I would stop by and pick up some for our Canada Day celebrations on July 1!!

Susanne said...

eta, my Dad had that business for 37 years and he was an integral part of the community. I can still smell the store and feel the dip of the old hardwood floors as you entered and walked down the aisles full of all the things you described at Streeters. My job was to "count" the nuts and bolts, and while I felt so important in taking inventory, I know now it was to keep me busy and out of his hair while he dealt with the many people who came and went on a daily basis. They did so, if for no other reason that to stop and chat! my what strong memories.

Mrs. Staggs said...

Oh gosh it made me happy to read this post today...and a little bit teary and nostalgic for a time when I was a little girl in the small town where my grandfather owned the hotel, cafe, pool hall and roadhouse. Everyone knew me and who I "belonged" to. My dad and his brothers were referred to as the "Richardson boys" even after they were grown men with kids of their own.
One of my favorite memories is of the old corner gas station, with a bench where the old men would hang out and talk. There was an old coke machine that had pop in bottles and it cost a dime. Whenever I would visit there with my dad, one old man or the other would pull a dime out of his pocket for me.
Old coke machines, the smell of oil on dirt roads and old gas pumps and the corner market....thanks for the lovely memories!

caroline said...

What a great place! and how great that Julia gets to enjoy it. Can't wait to see that bandanna quilt.

Susan said...

Thank you for this post. It's the things like these that I really miss in my modern life, the daily connections. Somehow, if you know you're going to see someone day after day for years, it gives you both more incentive to extend little courtesies and develop an easy, almost familial relationship, and that's such a precious thing to enjoy. I live just outside of Lowell, and I have recently decided to take my knitting to a cafe downtown on a regular basis so that I can become a regular and establish that kind of connection, so your post also hit me at just the right time in my life. Thank you so much!

Lisa said...

There is nothing like a general store. Love 'em and love the way you've described it all here. I feel like I was there. :)

Jane said...

This is a wonderful glimpse into another world. Thanks so much for taking the time to put such a great post together.

I've been reading The Times (London one) the same way you do since I was sixteen and still turn to the non-news sections first.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful postings,Kristin! Eleanor sent your website..Here in Dover(yes,THAT Dover!) there are Malls and those industrial big box places..I still prefer to deal with Sack's;PJ Plumbing Supply;Mine Hill Market;Dover Photo..I'm always being told "you can get things cheaper elsewhere" but I know it isn't always the price I'm concerned about!I also prefer small movie Roberts in Chatham or the ones in Montclair.Perhaps a "road trip" to visit General Stores across America is a good idea!hmmm..??

Alicia P. said...


Caroline Heinrichs said...

Love this post and still hoping that you are still writing.