When I was a young boy around 6 years old, my Grandfather Whitman gave us a real treat. There had been a fire in his neighbor's general store and he had run in to "rescue" the glass candy counter. It was filled with penny candy and the storekeeper told him to keep it. He placed it on the table in their summer kitchen, which was shut off and not being used at that time of year.
That is where the treat came in. When we went to visit my grandparents in Riceville, my grandfather would march all of the grandchildren to the summer kitchen and there, before our eyes, was a sight to behold - the glass case filled with the colorful penny candy of that day was like finding candy heaven! Wisely, my grandfather limited us to five pieces on each visit; that candy lasted for a long time.
Going to the general store for penny candy was a big treat in my day. Most families went to the general store on Saturday night, after working a six-day week, to do their shopping. We took our nickel we earned from doing chores to buy as much candy as possible. Most candy was one cent, but a few were three for a penny or in small packages. It was possible, therefore, to get more than just five pieces by shopping wisely.
I do not remember all the names of those penny candies, but over the years I have heard about Foxy Grandpas, Jackson Balls, Marshmellow Bananas, Chewey Baghdads, Gilbraters, Red Hots, Peppermint Humbugs, Uncle Sams, Jawbusters, Sugared Peanuts, Hokey Pokies, Coconut Flags, Caramels, All-day Suckers, big sticks of gum, Lozengers, flavored Paraffin with juice inside, Yellow Chicken Corn, and hard candies along with the well-known Tootsie Rolls and Lollypops. I once got an old doctor's case from my auctioneer uncle and collected as much penny candy that I could afford to treat my siblings and friends. At the time I had a good job working at Alwin Tennant's Garage for two dollars a week.
Working in the general stores of days-gone-by was part of my education. What I learned there has served me well over the years. My wife Beverly's father was a partner in L.L. Buyce's Sons general store in Wells and I often worked there during my college years. Before that time, I worked for seven years at Mosher's General Store at Northville. In those days the general store was the center of life in those rural communities.
The general store was more than a place to buy your groceries and other needed items; it was a forum where socializing came alive. Buyce's store had an old stove to gather around and a spittoon for the tobacco chewers. The men would sit around on a Saturday night to play checkers and talk politics while the women searched through the cloth, laces, ribbons and spools of thread to get their sewing needs and to talk fashions. Many of the Adirondack stories that I tell today came to me from those folks who patronized the old store. It was easy to become a "people person" hanging around in the old general store.
One feature of the general stores of that era was the wide variety of goods they supplied. Almost anything was available including the normal groceries, flour in bulk, sugar in bulk, pickles in a barrel, cheese from the round chunk on the counter, molasses, plug tobacco, ground coffee, seeds, farm equipment, brooms, kegs of nails and other hardware, lamp chimneys, horse collars, corn cob pipes, dried herbs, grain, hay, shoes, work clothes and those long glass counters filled with penny candy. You name it, they had it! And, mix all of the above together, and the general store had a smell all its own.
I can still see my father-in-law, Orra Buyce, climbing up on a small stool each Saturday night when he was closing up for the week, to wind up the eight-day octagon clock, getting ready for another week of serving the public. I can still see Gordie Mosher in his white apron, bustling around his store, greeting friends, checking shelves, giving orders and making certain that he was serving his customers well. I miss the old general stores.