At Shur-Way, my parents always carried a ticket. Shur-Way was our local grocery store in Ashdown, Arkansas. The front of the building proudly read: “Our meat is better.”
That was a well-known truth.
My dad always said they had the best mid cut crap money could buy.
The packaging always said “Bologna”, but we all called it nonsense. Baloney was also the best phrase for many things my father would say.
The popes owned Shur-Way. The whole family ran the shop. Mr. Pope and his son ran the meat market in the background. The mother and daughter served the front.
My parents’ ticket was kept there. In the front of a till that had individual slots and spring-loaded metal bars that burst when they pulled out or replaced the ticket.
When you check out, you can pay cash or say, “Please write it on our ticket.” Early next month, my mother would settle our bill.
This was all done according to the honor system. It was like a credit card, but without the card or the interest.
They didn’t need photo ID.
“You really do look like your mother, Johnny,” Mrs. Pope said.
“Yes ma’am. Thanks, ma’am,” I would say.
“Of course, Johnny,” she would say. “Tell your mom and dad we said ‘Hey’.”
At Shur-Way, your mom looks like your photo ID
Most families at that time had an income and a car. Fathers worked, mothers stayed at home. So it was easy to put your kid on their Huffy bike and send them down the street to get a few things.
My sister had a basket on her bike, but she almost never went to the store. That was my job.
I carried my purchases home in one sack and steered my bicycle with the other.
I could have taken my sister’s bike, but I wouldn’t have been caught dead on a girl’s bike. Too bad I didn’t have more sense.
In a small town, everyone knows everyone. So, when a kid walks in for a pound of baloney, a bag of Fritos, and a six-pack of Coke by the bottle, the Popes knew who you were.
Try to get that somewhere today.
Self checkouts don’t offer much conversation unless you’re talking to yourself. Or when I’m trying to operate the self checkout. The machine just screams until a unsmiling manager shows up to enter a 37-digit code and tells me to make sure “keep the scan deck clear when checking out”.
We’ve come a long way. Not a good way, but a long way.
Riding your bike to the local grocery store has also taught you patience. And perseverance.
Heaven help you if you’ve been tasked with embarking on a mission to bring you madness, frills, and a six-pack of Dr. Return Pepper in Bottles and you have dropped or run over something. Especially your father’s bullshit or Dr. Pepper your mother.
That would have resulted in a tanning session at 10, 2 and 4.
Bike touring to Shur-Way began when I was about 8 years old and continued even after I obtained a driver’s license to drive.
My last trip to Shur-Way was while visiting my parents a few years ago. As I walked the aisles looking for what Mom had on her list, I noticed that the selection was sparse.
It dawned on me that they would sell what they had left and go out of business.
Picking up another pound of this cherished mid-cut baloney; a bag of crisps; and some dr Pepper, I made it to the checkout.
There would be no ticket this time. The beginning of the next month would come, but Shur-Way would be gone.
Cash was changing hands as I took one last look around the store. I said to the remaining members of the papal family, ‘Thank you.’
i meant it
My family had received so much more than personal service. We had experienced trust and appreciation.
It felt great to live in an age when you didn’t need a credit card or background check to bill for your purchases. Your word was good enough.
Local families supporting each other, that’s how the world turned.
And that was a sure way to build memories.
John’s new book, Puns for Groan People, and his books, Write of Passage: A Southerner’s View of Then and Now Vol. 1 and Vol. 2, are available at his website — TheCountryWriter.com. You can also message him and listen to his weekly podcast.
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