Lett's Set A Spell
To enter the sanctuary of Grandpa’s country store in Buckhorn community and to be accepted by its elite congregation, one had to speak the language of the “set-a-spellers.” Admission was a nickel “drank” — the first password meaning a drink or soda from the “drank” box. This was usually a Coca-Cola, Pepsi, RC Cola, Nehi or Yahoo, a chocolate-flavored soft drink. The second secret code word was nabs, slang for crackers in two varieties, cheesy orange squares and Ritz-like rounds, both filled with peanut butter.
Dranks and nabs were staples in every farm workers’ diet and a favorite for the other “stoppers-by” like the mailman who couldn’t make it back to town without his daily fix of soda and crackers. As Grandpa (Puzie Lett) would say, “We can set our watches by the mailman’s stop at the store every day.” Many folks favored the flavors of Royal Crown Cola inhaled with a MoonPie.
The die-hard country folks and true Southerners knew about the ultimate combination: a small bag of salty peanuts plucked down the opening of a long-neck drank bottle and blended in with the sweet syrupy taste. “Pert-near” every living soul with country store training knows the magic of those peanut-flavored dranks, sometimes called Carolina cocktails in the rural South.
These dranks were considered good for body and soul. Folks talked about those wayward sots who were “bad to drank,” a gentle way of saying they had the habit of drinking too many alcoholic beverages. Heaven help anyone who was described as “drunk as a skunk” because he could be pert-near burned at the stake by the old potbellied stove in the back room or condemned to hell under the store’s shelter. These two meeting places were the closest thing to Judgment Day in Buckhorn community.
“SETTING A SPELL” had nothing to do with witchcraft — it was about sitting down and staying a while. However, if one “set” long enough at the country store Grandpa would talk long and hard about chasing the Devil out of some evil folks who didn’t live up to the standards of these tow-the-line Christian folks.
Why was the country store so special? In this comfortable atmosphere folks could feel at ease and relax like they could at home. At Lett’s Grocery and Filling Station, country folks could blend in with almost sacred surroundings and see familiar faces that gave them a sense of belonging. In a strong handshake they could touch their neighbor’s coarse and calloused hands and notice their farmer’s tan — brown year-round from the short sleeves down. With their eyes they could survey the shape of the store’s long counter like they could trace the lines of the fields beyond their backyards.
Grandpa’s country store was folks’ second home — it was where part of their heart parked and waited for them beside the door. Here people could feel a security that can only be experienced when routine is the core of one’s existence.
The humdrum that might bore the “citified” to tears brought reassurance for country folks. They knew their mates and young’uns were either within hollerin’ distance or at home on the farm. They knew their neighbor’s lives like they did their own — from the wasp sting on the foot to the gall bladder removed. When cancer ate right through to the bone and snuffed out a light in the community, they mourned like it was their own flesh and blood.
FOLKS GATHERED day in and day out to “shoot the breeze” (blowing words in the air) or “chew the fat” (yak endlessly about something or in some cases, nothing) ... often “talking each other’s ears off.” They told the same old stories over and over again, sprinkling new tidbits here and there to make them new as dew.
We young’uns listened intently — here we could learn everything from who picked a mess of beans that day to who was messin’ around with whom. We figured out early that juicy gossip superseded all other news. Other “goings-on” at the store included comparing tobacco prices and crop yields, capping strawberries, shucking and “silking” corn, shelling peas, playing cards and moving checkers strategically around on a black and red board.
We laughed, we teased, we shared stories and enjoyed sitting side by side with family, neighbors, friends and passersby. Above all, we relished the sense of community and feeling of closeness found only at Lett’s Grocery and Filling Station.
The country store is closed now. Grandpa and most of his men’s club and his favorite womenfolk are long gone, but the stories live on. So pull up a chair, and set a spell...
AlexSandra Lett is a professional speaker and the author of “Natural Living, From Stress to Rest;” “A Timeless Place, Lett’s Set a Spell at the Country Store;” “Timeless Moons, Seasons of the Fields and Matters of the Heart;” “Timeless Recipes and Remedies, Country Cooking, Customs, and Cures;” and “Coming Home to my Country Heart, Timeless Reflections about Work, Family, Health, and Spirit.” Lett can be reached at (919) 258-9299 or LettsSetaSpell@aol.com.