Southern Sean: Logan’s General Store

By Sean Dietrich, Sean of the South

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I fell into a time lag. I don’t remember how it happened. But he did. I was sucked back 53 years.

Sean Dietrich (Photo courtesy of seandietrich.com)

I left State Highway 160 in Hayden, Alabama. I drove into a sleepy Sunoco gas station. The parking lot was full of mud-covered Fords and guys in work clothes drinking Gatorades. The window of the convenience store read: “Ice Cold Coca-Cola sold here.

I pushed open the door and entered the old country store. And I fell in the 1960s.

The smell of fried chicken hit me like a ground swell. The girl behind the sneeze guard was selling 8 piece meals, fried potato wedges, Mexican rice and some kind of fruit cobbler so good it’s probably illegal in three states.

The menu on the wall was an old lightbox menu. There was a wait.

The men queuing for lunch were the prototypical blue-collar workers I come from. They were wearing bits of steel and scruffy jeans. They had black spots on their faces and dirty hands. They looked like they had just come out of the mines, or had just left the steel mill, or had just finished beading the column splices.

On the way to the bathroom, I realized it wasn’t just a convenience store. Not in the sense that we know them today.

Today you walk into a gas station store littered with futuristic granita machines and those roller grills spinning sausages and spring rolls that predate the Carter administration.

It was not a place like that. It was a pretty safe general store. This place was more like the store your mom sent you to, on her bicycle, whenever she ran out of cornmeal.

It was the kind of place that could cover all your household needs in one fell swoop. You could buy a pound of roofing nails, a Stoffeur’s lasagna, a raclette, and a Baby Ruth, all in the same trip. Add a Navy plug for your old man and you were good to go.

I passed well-stocked grocery aisles full of random items like Spic and Span, wooden mousetraps and, of course, pickled quail eggs.

I saw an old woman in overalls buying a box of Raid, an Italian Dean’s cream cake and a Phillips screwdriver.

There was a young man buying a Monster Energy drink, a bag of okra and frozen peas.

I stopped at the coffee machine and waited in a line of three people. I waited behind men who smelled of hard work and long hours. Not a single man touched cream or sugar.

There were a few children wandering around the store. They were covered in small child’s sweat and freckles. The boys browsed the candy shelves, reminiscing about my own thoughtless youth.

The days when I saved all my pennies to buy Mister Goodbars, Fun Dip, candy cigarettes, Big League Chew or the mother of all sweets, a Payday.

At the register, I waited behind an elderly man at the counter. His hair was white and he walked on shaky legs. His voice was weak and he was shaking. He was prepaying for his gas. Cash.

The young man behind the till took the money from the man and said, “Do you want help pumping your gas, sir?”

What year was I? Young men offering to pump gas for their elders?

“No,” the old man said in a thick, mountainous drawl. “I can do it. But thanks for the offer.

“Are you sure?” said the boy. “That does not bother me.”

“I’m sure of it,” he said.

I paid for my goods. A girl behind the counter was restocking packets of Red Man. There was an old case of pocket knives next to the register.

I encountered a man leaning over the counter while I was paying. He was dressed in work clothes and a grime film, wearing boots older than me. He was pulling the breeze with the cashier, smiling, even though there was nothing notable to smile about.

“How are you today?” the man asked
me happily.

“Okay,” I say. “How are you?”

He smiles bigger. “If I was better, I couldn’t stand myself.”

I returned his smile.

They said goodbye to me. I pushed the door open and left the 1960s. And I was immediately back in the real world.

A world of highways, ringing phones, tight schedules and text messages. A place where motorists see a yellow light and speed up instead of slowing down. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind living in the modern world. Honestly, I don’t.

But I can guarantee you that I will be going back to Logan’s General Store.

Maria R. Newman