Terry: Country store tough to let go

Back before we had the convenience store this area had at least one little country store in every community or wide spot in the road.

This past week I stepped inside a building that was once home to one of those stores — Turnbough’s Store, just east of Portales. Today it’s being operated as a fruit and vegetable store but the canned goods, creaky wood floor and the original counter give it a little bit of the feel of days gone by.

Karl Terry

Karl Terry

When I was little the best part of riding with my dad or granddad was the stop for a sodie pop and candy bar at Caudill’s Store on the South Floyd Highway. We frequented a lot of stores in eastern New Mexico but Caudill’s is the one stuck in my memory.

With gas pumps out in the driveway where the regulars pumped their own then went inside to settle up. The drive was graveled but it was hard to tell because of all the bottle caps that had been tossed there. Atop the porch you entered through a bagging screen door with a push handle mounted that advertised one of the brands of bread or pop that was sold inside.

Near the front of the store was a pop machine that held bottles of various types suspended by the neck in rows inside the machine. My favorites were either an RC Cola or a Grape Fanta. You would have rearrange the pop box sometimes to get what you wanted but when you did it was always ice cold.

Moon pies or a Zero or Payday candy bar went well with a cold bottle of pop in the afternoon. Sometimes we got a bag of salted peanuts and put them in the cola.

There were only a few rows of low shelves in the store and the emphasis was on the basics. Bread, milk, flower, lunchmeat, coffee and a few canned goods made up the inventory. If you bought groceries there it was usually just enough to hold you over a day or two until you went to town.

Near the old one-armed bandit cash register was a huge display of candy and gum and cigarettes and chewing tobacco were in the racks behind the linoleum-covered wood counter. On top of the counter was usually a cigar box or two of Roi Tans, Prince Edwards or White Owl cigars.

It was almost a breach of country etiquette to pass without stopping if someone you knew was pulled up there. Since we knew everyone that stopped there you pulled in a lot.

Men would stand out front drinking pop and spitting tobacco across that bottle cap littered drive. They talked about when they thought they might be able to go fishing or what they bought at the last auction, until someone pulled a pocket watch out and proclaimed his water ought to be about ready to change.

If you needed to leave word to a neighbor or another family member about what field you were moving to or why you were headed to town for parts, the store was the ideal place to leave that message.

The country store was gossip central and a big part of the social fabric for years. Convenience stores are just a bathroom on the way to somewhere else.

Karl Terry writes for Clovis Media Inc. Contact him at:
karlterry@yucca.net