by Timothy W. Tron
Mr. R.C.(Reno) Sharpes’s store came into my life one hot summer day, a few years ago, on one of my return trips from a local sawmill. The store had obviously seen better days, which is not hard to imagine since it had been built in 1883 and moved to its current location in the 1920s. The store was run by Calvin Sharpe, Reno’s grandfather, until Reno took it over in 1941.
The outside, with its weathered brown wood siding and the sign above the rusting metal roof, was hardly readable. Yet, there on the front porch that late morning was a host of folks, sitting in the cool shade of the large oak that shadows the porch of the store, watching life go by.
It reminded me of the old general stores that I had grown up with as a child, which held a magical place in my heart. A place where time stands still and places long forgotten are revisited in stories that randomly wander down life’s beaten path. I figured what would it hurt to stop and have a cold drink. I might even get to know someone, I thought to myself as I pulled up. As I got out of the truck, I was warmly greeted as if I had been coming there all my life. The rest is history.
I now go to Mr. R.C. Sharpe’s store every chance I get.
This particular day, I was to meet Mr. Gene Galin there to introduce him to the original source for the “Ole Carolina General Store”. It certainly gave me a good excuse to get over to the store and a chance to show him why I came up with the website.
It was a cold rainy morning, excellent for getting a chance to visit with more friends since rainy days are best for store days. As I walked in, I was greeted with a host of “Mornings.” Everyone was gathered near the heater that sits in the middle of the store. Wilson Poe Sr., one of the oldest patrons, was seated in his usual seat, an old office chair, positioned next to the snack shelf to the right of the heater. Mr. Sharpe (Reno) was in one of his customary spots, leaning against the counter on the left of the heater. Bud Clegg was sitting up on the counter on the right side of the heater facing the other two, and Johnny Young was sitting on the counter near the cash register facing the other three.
They had already discussed who knows what. However, all conversations stopped, and my input was then questioned as to what I had been up to lately, which is sometimes good for more food for the gossip fire. Upon my reply of, “Not too much,” a disappointed sigh could almost be heard. The storytelling continued on as I went over to the cooler, slid the lid back, and reached in for a cold coca-cola. I then walked back over near Johnny and settled in for the latest news and ramblings.
The talk slightly ebbed as I eased into an open spot, but not for long since Wilson was not about to let the moment slip by without quickly getting back to where they had been. He is one of the best sources for stories about the old days, I have found yet. He is very well suited for that since he is a young 87.
I don’t recall precisely what was being discussed initially, but Wilson began discussing something about the way the use to make cross-ties or railroad ties. They were apparently talking about how they use to make them in the old days. Wilson was describing how two or three men would go out into the woods and fall a tree with a crosscut saw. They would then use a premeasured form to get the sizing (width) just right and then begin hewing the log by hand with very sharp axes. (Hewing is done by chopping the roundness of the wood off to make it square.) He said the sharper, the better. In fact, he kept his sharp enough to shave with. The logs were required to be hewed on at least three sides. If you have ever tried this, you will know or find out that it is definitely an extremely labor-intensive job. They were paid handsomely though, 25 cents per cross-tie. Working together, they might get as many as twelve ties in one day, which includes carrying them out so they could be picked up.
About the time this tale was ending another faithful patron and barber to all, Max Burns, came in the door with his friend and another store regular, Glenn Beal. They, too, were warmly greeted, and they soon joined in. Max had been quite ill recently, and it was very good to see him getting out and looking good on such a dreary day. There was a slight jockeying of positions around the stove, but we all settled back into more discussion and carrying-ons. Those that didn’t have a soda in hand got one and those that had revisited the cooler for another.
Johnny took the opportunity to ease on out since sometimes it’s hard for one to get away from good talk. As he was leaving, he asked me about the information on McPherson’s quarry located on the Haw River, five miles west of Woodin’s ferry. I said I would look it up for him on the Internet since no one there had known anything about it, which is unusual. The store is a natural first reference stop for anyone seeking information about something old or thought forgotten around these parts. The quarry was a place where they use to quarry wet stones used for sharpening knives and tools. (I have not found anything as of yet)
As Johnny was about to leave, Reno softly spoke up with his warmly cordial salutation, “No need to rush off now.”
To be honest with you, the first time I heard it, on that hot summer morning as I was leaving, I actually turned around and stayed a while longer. When I went to leave again, he again told me there was no need to rush off. At which point, I realized the generosity of the statement and the feeling that I would definitely be back for more.
One by one, more regulars came flowing through the double front doors. Talk wandered between individuals from one speaker back and forth like the ebbing of a tide. Quite usually, one person talking about a story or past event would spur other discussions aside from that one, and then they would all converge back to the start of the original tale, like the ripples in a pond. By the time Gene showed up, a whole host of folks were in the store.
Hoke Brooks came in with Herbert H. Harris. Hoke is known for hay around these parts. He can be seen getting up hay all summer long. He is the first one we think of when someone asks where they could get hay, especially this time of year. That is quite remarkable for a man in his late 80’s. Especially since he can easily be mistaken for a youngster in his 60’s. Herbert is akin to the Ford place, Wilfred Harris. He retired from there in fact.
In fact, Bud Clegg had worked there for many years, fixing all sorts of engines. (Another patron in the crowd this morning, which I spoke of earlier.) This is just an example of how closely knit the lives of individuals in this small community have become over the years. Its what the rural south is all about. It’s a wholesome place. A place where honesty and integrity are as good as a person’s word. The best thing is, I am lucky enough to be a part of this is, and what a blessing it is.
By this time, the action was really rolling, and discussions of all types were flowing throughout the store. The question asked earlier about the quarry prompted Wilson to begin discussing covered bridges that once existed in this area. There used to be one over the Haw River on Hwy. 64, many years ago. That preceded the steel bridge, which was also replaced several years ago. At one time, one lane steel bridges were the latest and greatest. One still exists in our area on the Asbury area that crosses the Rocky River. A drive across its one-lane narrow passage can take your breath away, especially if you stop in the middle and look out the side windows of your vehicle. We have been reminded of the winding roads that once existed, which were traversed in wagons and horseback. Back then, there were no bridges, only fords. This is one instance when we can be thankful for the advances in transportation and roadways.
Reno kept an eye on all in case someone wanted to leave and pay on their way out, which is customary. When Marshall Oldham pulled up in his truck, it was no surprise to anyone as Reno gathered up items from an imaginary shopping list and took them out to Marshall. Marshall is handicapped and cannot get around very well, so Reno provides him with curb service as a courtesy. Marshall doesn’t get to join us much on cold days, but he sits and visits with us with his window rolled down when the weather allows us to sit out on the porch of the store. His story is only part of the mix of folks that frequent the store. If someone is missing, it won’t be long before their name is mentioned, as if being called upon a roll. This particular morning the Meronies Church Rives were absent. That would include Gerald, William, Wilbur, and Mitchell, who are not to be confused with the Antioch Christian Church Rives of Virgil, Jackie, and Foster.
Somewhere along the line, Ricky Sharpe, Reno’s son, slipped in and was getting his gourmet lunch eaten when Gene started snapping the pictures. One of the best gourmet lunch dinners around is a hunk of hoop cheese and a coca-cola. As Gene went around, he asked the name of each individual being photographed. Upon asking the occupation, the general consensus was, “Retired.” Not bad company to hang out with, especially since a youngster in the crowd would be in his 60’s.
In all, a small crowd of regulars was present that morning. Gene could see from the generosity and cordiality that this place was something of a find. The short time he was there, several tales were spun, and several names had been recalled. Some still living and others have gone on. The store is like that to me. A place of memory and recollection. A place where you can visit with the past in the present and sometimes wish you could have seen it, and other times you are thankful for the changes of today.
As with all good things, the visit had to come to an end. I always look forward to the next visit, and I am thankful to have the last one. The stores of this era are slowly being replaced by the Quicky Marts, which reflect the fast-paced world we live in. I know too well that someday, this gem of history will become a recollection in itself, like the patrons that walk through the front door. Until then, I am thankful for each precious moment. And as always, we ease toward the door and hear, “No need to rush off now.” We know Mr. Sharpe and company will be waiting for us again.