I live in the country about 4 miles from the city of Sylacauga, and I have lived here a very long time. I love living where I can hear the train comin’ round the bend way yonder in the distance like Johnny Cash. I hear the mocking bird singing when I wake up in the morning; and in the evening, the lonesome dove cooing across the road where the Talladega National Forest begins. I like the quiet coolness of a late summer afternoon with a lone dog barking in the distance or an owl calling across the hollow behind my house. My biggest fear is that when the wind is howling, a limb might fall across a line somewhere down the road in the dead of winter and the power will go off. Alabama Power has many customers, and it might be awhile; but all in all, they do a great job of getting us back on.
During the time that I have lived here, I have enjoyed the country stores that have been on County Rd. 511, the Goodwater Highway. They are representative of a different time, a sweet time when we were raising our kids and as the old saying goes, “keeping the road hot” from our house to town….back to band practice, ball practice, church activities, P.T.A., etc. There was Roberts Store, Weathers Store, and Harris Grocery. I have stories about each of these. Roberts Store was a close place to get gas or a loaf of bread when there was not a slice in the house. The Weathers’ family were just good, hard-working people. The kids were smart and well-behaved, a teacher’s dream in her classes. Albert Harris operated a small store across the road, and Robert was sometimes allowed to go over and buy a treat. Albert always greeted him the same way, like a “big spender” even if he had only fifty cents.
Probably the first store I remember is Culver’s Store. When I think of that store, I think family. Carl and Edith, the grandparents, Terry and his sweet wife, Renee, Terry’s brother, Wade, and Terry and Renee’s children, Rhonda, Tommy, and Randy. The family-owned store was family operated, and the customers were family, too. Customers were Black and White, and friends as long as they were responsible and paid their bills. They sold dry goods, groceries, meats, tires, batteries, auto parts, feed, notions, and garden plants and flowers. Carl Culver prided himself on those beautiful red, delicious, summer tomatoes that made a sandwich to rival a steak dinner that a New York City rich man eats. I have a picture in my mind of Carl watering those plants with five gallon buckets. In those days they sold gas and oil; it was only after that service stopped that I learned to pump my own gas. Edith, Carl’s wife, was often behind the register during the busy times before school and late afternoon. Wade, Rhonda, Tommy, and Randy literally grew up at the store. Renee, Terry’s pretty wife, was a sweet Christian woman who was an asset just by being there, but worked as hard as the next person, including running errands and going to the bank. Her early death left a void in the heart of everyone who knew her.
Anyone who has ever been connected with a “pay at the end of the month” store knows that it is not an easy way to do business because even in the “good old days” there were slackers (now hackers). Notice the picture of Carl and his grandson, Randy. The sign in the background says: “All bills must be paid In full once a month. $5 handling fee on all returned checks.” For folks like us who got paid once a month, it was mighty convenient to pay for gasand sometimes tires on credit until the end of the month in those days before credit cards were so common.
Terry Culver passed a couple of weeks ago. I think he always liked the car/tire part of the store, but he was a knowledgeable market man also. He had worked with my Mom, Bessie George, years before in the Kwik Check meat market. Long before his death, Terry stopped selling groceries including salt-meat, milk, bread, and good hoop cheese; but he continued to offer beautiful plants, good ‘maters, melons, and tempting peaches from the Market. Selling tires and cars and trucks has kept him close to the family business, specializing in the part he enjoyed the most.
We just called it “the store” and the boys always wanted to go inside and get something for recess at school or just a cold bottle of pop out of the old chest cooler. All kinds of things were sold in that store to tempt a boy with some jingle in his pockets. Robert was probably 5 or maybe 6 years old when he jumped into the car after a dash into the store with a small brown bag that contained a can/bottle opener with a colorful, shiny fish on it. Holding it tightly with a smile bigger than the little brown treasure bag, he said, “I got this for you, Mama. I thought you could use it for those Pet Milk cans.” It is one of my treasured possessions, and I am still using it today. When I needed someone to help in the house or to babysit, Terry’s pretty wife, Renee, recommended Dixie and Bertha, some sweet ladies that were long-time Culver’s Store customers.
Terry and Renee raised some good kids who have the same work ethic that they had. The visitation at the funeral home was packed with plain working people, hugging each other and telling stories. An unusual number of sweet floral offerings were arranged as a tribute to love and friendship, and a simpler time. Rhonda is a nurse, almost certainly working hard and caring about her patients. Tommy is the man to call for heating and air conditioning needs, (Culver’s Heating and Air). He is someone who does what he says he will do and is kind and tolerant of an old lady because he remembers those days gone-by, too. His son, Mason, has helped me out with the heat pump several times. He likes baseball and was an excellent player even after high school. Randy, always smiling and mischievous, is not afraid of hard work, and somehow conveyed his heart to me when he said of the store, “It’ll go right on.” Randy, like his Papaw, his mama, and his brother keeps his word. He said he would find me a couple of good pictures from the past, and he did, brought them to me with a smile. (I had to ask for the hug)
We have lost so much when we lose the relationships that small businesses create. Terry Culver, you are missed as are Renee, Carl, and your Mom. You would not have believed all of those folks who came to pay their respects to you and your family. It is just a small country store, but it has made an impact, and It was not so long ago at that.