I grew up in a small rural community in North Arkansas in the 1950s and 60s. In 1966 my parents bought a set of World Book Encyclopedia. I remember looking in Volume A of the set and finding the population listings for cities and towns in Arkansas. Our own little community was listed as having about 20 residents. My parents, siblings, and I made up six of those.

My dad owned the local grocery store, and on Saturdays and during summer months, I helped him in the store. I filled orders; dusted and cleaned; ran the loud, clanging cash register; and occasionally pumped gas.

Often a man walked in and handed me a grocery list his wife had sent and asked me to fill it. I soon knew what brand of coffee and laundry detergent many of our local families used. Occasionally he said, “Add a dollar’s worth of gas to that.”

I collected the requested items, wrote down the purchases in a small credit booklet using carbon paper to make a copy for the store, sacked the items, dropped in the customer’s copy of the receipt, pumped the gas, and moved on to the next customer. Our clientele appreciated my dad’s “buy now, pay later” policy, and most of them honored the “pay later” part.

We understood the meaning of community. We celebrated the good times together and helped out during the bad. When one of our townsfolk died, local men dug the grave with their own shovels, even in deep winter when the ground was frozen. Everyone from miles around attended the funeral, women showering the family with pies, cakes, casseroles, hams, and pans of homemade yeast rolls.

After a death, my dad often shook his head sadly and said to me, “Well, Mr. So-and-So has paid his debts and gone on.” Then occasionally, with a wink, he added, “Well, at least he has gone on,” indicating that the man had died leaving debts unpaid at our store.

I learned early that some debts never get paid.

I sometimes wonder why God planted me where He did, within the confines of a loving, store-owning family on a tiny dot of a town in northern Arkansas in the middle of the Twentieth Century. But I was planted there, and I grew and matured and eventually moved into the adult population and out of northern Arkansas.

I owe much to the people who shared the world I inhabited as a child. They taught me the difference between right and wrong and showed me we all need each other. The values of honesty, hard work, cooperation, and general courtesy they modeled rubbed off on me and have stood me well. Most of these people are now gone, and for what they taught me, I owe them a debt I cannot repay.

Never underestimate your influence on your world.






18 thoughts on “Debts”

  1. Debbie, This could have been writen about my family except it would have taken place in Bloomington. My father owned a grocery alos, (N0 gas pump.) The whole family helped out at sometime. He knew exactly what brand customers liked and even took orders over the phone and delivered them in the back of the family station wagon. My mother even baked pies to sell on Saturday. When my father died we got many cards and visitors that expressed their appreciation of credit he extended to them . Like with your father, some debs were never paid.

    1. Belva, I’m glad we share this common background. I learned a lot of useful skills helping my dad in his store. For example, I’ve known how to make change since I was probably eight years old. I see cashiers today give blank stares when the computer doesn’t cooperate and they have to make change without it.

  2. What a beautiful story. I’ve often wondered how it was in America during the time I grew up in Germany and sure enough it was just the same. Our young people probably don’t even know of such community.

    1. Ingrid, Thanks for reading. Yes, small communities like the one I grew up in are almost a thing of the past. I know there are benefits to growing up in the city, access to more activities, etc., but I treasure my heritage in the small town.

  3. That was a beautiful post, Debbie. I am just so afraid that ‘that’ world is gone now forever. I miss the kinder, gentler, slower world that I grew up in, too. Love, Julie

    1. Thanks for commenting, Julie. I agree that the world you and I grew up in is vanishing. People today have to work hard to make their worlds not hectic but rather “kind, gentle, and slow.” For us, that’s just the way it was.

  4. Like Julie, I also miss “that world”. It just seemed like life was a little more simple and slower and value systems were important during this time. I am grateful, however, that I can reflect on the memories and cherish the good ol’ times!

    1. Becky, I agree. As mothers, you and I tried to simplify the lives of our children. I’m sure your daughters as well as my daughter and daughter-in-law are also trying to do the same thing. I believe it takes more effort today. If you aren’t rushing every single minute, people wonder what’s wrong with you. 🙂

  5. Thank you sister for writing this article. You are a gifted communicator. I especially enjoy your stories that bring to mind vivid memories of the past we shared.

      1. Ok, THAT’s a story waiting to be told right there! 🙂 Your post reminded me of The Waltons. I loved that show! Any Mary Ellen’s or John-boys in your family, by chance? And I like the changes to your website. Happy Geranium is an awesome name!

      2. Thank you, Pearl. I miss shows like the Waltons. When our family gets together, we often call out “Goodnight, Mary Ellen,” etc. after going to bed. God give us more wholesome shows like that one!

    1. I have not read those books, had never even heard about them, but I am ordering “Shiloh Autumn” from Amazon today. Thank you for mentioning their existence. I’m already thinking of friends and family members who will also enjoy them.

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