“Come, take a walk with me down to Kirksey’s store for a Dr. Pepper and spend some face time with good neighbors, back to a place called Old Pike Road where only the birds tweet.”
– Conie Mac Darnell
It was a slow one, yesterday was. We watched the neighborhood parade from our porch before breakfast, filled our bellies with smoked brisket sandwiches and baked beans for lunch, and then I wandered around the place doing a little of this and a little of that until it was time to head down to the lake to watch the fireworks last night.
I love a lazy holiday. Especially in the country. I’m 1100 miles and half a lifetime away, but days like yesterday sure have a way of keeping me tangibly tethered to my past. “Delightful weather, delightful people and delightful doing…as near to perfection as anything can come in this world.” (L.M. Montgomery)
That’s a photo of what used to be Kirksey’s Store here in Pike Road. Because no one wanted to see it go, the family who owns it did their best to keep it standing for as long as they could, but they had to tear it down a few years ago. Luckily, they did it brick by brick and used the pieces to build a community center and park across the street so it can live on in a new way for families around here today. Here’s a peek of what it looked like back in the 50s or 60s…
The patch of grass it stood on is just a hop, skip and jump away from our neighborhood.
Kirksey’s Store is the brick building with the white car parked in front of it in the illustration above, and that white building across the street was Bell’s Mercantile. It’s no longer there either, but like I said, there’s a nice place for families to gather in its place now.
The two buildings in the lower right-hand corner of that painting are still standing and you better believe we ride by often just to make sure. 😉
As you can see, the railroad tracks used to run back where that little street sign is now and Kirksey’s was just beyond that. I secretly wish the whole town could just pool their pennies and rebuild it. I’d chip in, that’s for sure.
A man named Conie Mac Darnell, who grew up in this area, wrote a book about his childhood here. I especially love this excerpt that helps bring the buildings in those photos right back to life:
“A little further down, were the crossroads of Pike Road and Wallahatchie where Bell’s Mercantile and Kirksey’s Store stood on opposite corners. Mr. Bell’s white clapboard store was the first you’d come to. The Bells lived in the house directly behind the store. Across Pike Road was the two-story brick store of Mr. Kirksey. On the Wallahatchie side of Mr. Kirksey’s store, somebody had painted big advertisements. But, you didn’t always have time to read them hurrying to one of Mr. Kirksey’s out-houses behind his store.
Kirksey’s and Bell’s stores were regular gathering places for folks, black and white. Everyone knew each other by name, including much of their family history. At a minimum, there was a raised hand or holler from the benches as people passed in their cars, trucks, or tractors. In cold weather, there was standing room only around Mr. Kirksey’s pot-bellied stoves surrounded by shelves that reached nearly thirty feet high. Everything in the world could be found at Bell’s and Kirksey’s, and if they didn’t have it, they could order it out of a catalog. Mr. Kirksey had a big jar of pickled pig feet, but I never saw anybody chewing on one.
They even had gas pumps…sometimes 27 cents a gallon and sometimes 29 cents, depending on the economy. Another good thing about Kirksey’s and Bell’s- we didn’t have to dress up in Sunday clothes like we did when we went shopping in the city; they welcomed us in our everyday clothes.
Across from Kirksey’s on the other side of Wallahatchie Road and the train tracks sat another two-story red brick building. It had been empty as long as I could remember. I snuck into it one time, and figured it must have been something in its time. On the outside and inside there was some real fancy wood work around the windows.
Connected to the old store was Pike Road’s Post Office faithfully tended by Mr. and Mrs. Bolling. They lived next door in a house set way back from the road. Pike Road folks knew just when to show up pick up their mail and catch up with everybody. Conversation always included checking on how so-and-so was doing and complaining about the weather—hot or cold—rain or shine.”
I don’t know about you, but absorbing those words makes me breathe easy. Makes me feel calm. Makes me want to close this (hot) laptop, gather up some ingredients, and make something no-bake for a neighbor.
Happy summer, my friend…wherever today finds you!
PS- I found Mr. Darnell’s book at John E. Hall & Son Grocery in over in Cecil. Here’s their number if you want to call them about getting your hands on a copy: 334-270-7772.