Lamenting the loss of the laughing place

Published 11:03 pm Friday, July 25, 2014

My laughing place is gone.

When “Noie” and Grace Black closed their grocery store on the backstreet of Brundidge, they closed the door on my laughing place and locked it tight.

How I would love to, once again, creak open the door to the friendly confines of my laughing place.

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Just how long, I visited Black’s Grocery store I’m not sure. And, I say “visited” because I don’t think buying a “co-cola” and a bag of salted peanuts is grocery shopping.

My earliest memories of the backstreet grocery stores are of Nicholson’s Grocery. Mama would take me there in the afternoons and Papa Nick would punch a hole in the bottle cap of the co-cola with an ice pick.

Drinking a co-cola in that fashion will keep a young’un occupied and quiet for a good long time.

I would sit with my lips pressed firmly around the bottle cap and my cheeks would work furiously to draw the cold, dark cola into my mouth.

Uncle Seef said drinking a co-cola was a waste of money. He would turn up the short, green bottle and guzzle down the fizzy cola. Then, he would put the bottle down and let out the longest, loudest “buuuurp” anybody had ever heard.

“There go my nickel,” he would say and everybody would laugh.

My childhood afternoons were filled with grocery store humor.

When I “grew up,” it was Black’s Grocery Store were I spent my leisure afternoons. There I found a wealth of warmth, wit and hard-knocks wisdom.

I would pull a stool up to the counter where Grace was polishing her nails or powdering her nose and make a goober cocktail by shaking salted peanuts into a bottle of co-cola and time would stand still.

Mr. “Noie” and the other old-timers would be clustered over in front of the picture window, “rared” back in straight chairs or balancing on co-cola crates or propped on the drink box.

One of the old gents would say, “Y’all remember when ….” and I was taken in – hook, line and sinker.

So much of what I know about Hard Times, I learned from those grand ol’ gents. Often I would leave my perch on the stool and take the straight chair offered to me. I’d lean in close, in an effort to hear every word that was said. One of the old timers would wipe tobacco juice from the corners of his mouth and start, “Now, back during’ Hard Times…” or “Back in Hoover Days …”

The stories they told were filled with humor and heartbreak but always with great satisfaction of lives well lived “off the land.”

Every now and then, a little difference of opinion or a mis-remembrance would come up and that’s when the fireworks would start and things would get interesting.

When things settled back down, Grace would invite me to the back of the store to get a bowl of peas cooked with white meat or whatever else she had cooked on the stove behind the meat counter. I’d help myself and rejoin the gathering in the front of the store.

There was always a steady flow of folks coming and going and each one would have something to contribute or contradict to the conversation.

Laughter alternated with friendly fussing and often a little fuming.

But, like Mr. Noie always said, difference of opinion is good. That’s what makes po’ land sell and ugly women get married.

I never walked out of Black’s Grocery without feeling that my load was a little lighter and my world was a little brighter. It was my laughing place.

Memories, someone said, are the way we have of holding on to the things we love.

To that, I say, amen and amen.