As Best I Remember

The Grocery Store: Winter Lunch

David Lewis JrMy daddy’s first grocery store was a concrete block structure that was among the tools that filled my childhood with great memories. Supermarkets had not yet come to prominence so the small county stores served great purposes, and ours was no exception. In addition to running the store, Daddy also farmed cotton so he was plugged in to what was going on in our area.

In addition to the availability of food, the store was a bit of an “information center.” If there was anything going on in the community – good, bad, pro or con – it could be discovered through the many conversations, usually among farmers sitting on soft drink crates around the pot belly stove, well-stoked with coal. 

On this particular day, I was at the store with my mother since Daddy had gone into town to pick up some inventory. In those days we could get delivery from the suppliers, but it only happened once a week when they would make a run up our way. Unless it was something he wanted to wait on, Daddy would most often drive the 15 miles into town and pick up his supplies.

It was cold, and we were starting to get a mix of sleet and a little snow. The wind was blowing hard, howling at times, and rattling the front doors. It was late morning when Daddy got back, and we went out to help him unload from his car trunk. The sleet and wind burned our faces, and we hurried to get everything inside. After helping him open up boxes and put items on the shelves, my mother said she was going to go to the house to make us something for lunch. Normally she brought his lunch to the store every day. Our house was about 40 yards behind the store so it wasn’t too far, but it had gotten so nasty out that Daddy wanted her to stay.

Daddy told her we could just eat something there in the store. Then he said, “Hold on. Stay right there.” He headed to the back of the store where the meat case was. Mother and I smiled as we looked at one another because we had seen this response from him numerous times in other situations.

In a few minutes, he came back and in one hand held a white paper tray containing three pieces of steak. In the other hand, he had three coat hangers. He straightened out the hangers and threaded a piece of steak on one and handed it to my mother, smiling as he did so. He did the same thing for me and then finally himself. He opened the top door to the stove and you could see all the red hot embers. He told us to stick our hangers inside and cook our steaks the way we wanted them. So there we were, like three musketeers with our swords drawn, cooking rib eye steak in the pot belly stove.

Daddy went to the bread rack and pulled off a loaf of Wonder Bread. I mean why not? The advertisements said that Wonder Bread would build strong bodies 12 ways! We slapped our coal-fired steak between two slices and had a fine winter lunch. It was delicious and everyone was happy. Mother and I hung around for a couple more hours until the weather calmed down enough to walk to the house.

He said he had never done that before but had often thought about it. On the scale of things it wasn’t a big deal, but it was innovative, which is something those who farm understand. Bailing wire, for instance, has solved many a problem and helped farmers make it to the end of the day. For years it was the rural equivalent of duct tape. It was one of hundreds, maybe thousands, of ways he took care of us through the years while running the store and farming.

It was a good day at Daddy’s grocery store and memorable to me, as he showed love to his family in a simple, unconventional way

sub sandwich
Modern sandwiches have nothing on the simple steak sandwich enjoyed by David and his parents.
Photo: iStockphoto.com/MikeyGen73

hot coals
Hot coals cooked the steaks after they were threaded on straightened coat hangers.
Photo: iStockphoto.com/tahkani