I hope this note finds you well.
As many of you know, old men (and old women) like to think and talk about their youth. For most of us, those times were idyllic and full of happy memories. I was raised in the White River Delta town of Augusta, Arkansas, in the 1950s. Our lives centered on a two-block area of 2nd street, a high bluff just 100 yards from the river.
On the north end of this area was the old Conner Mercantile and on the south end was the Western Auto. In between were the Lura theater, the Kroger store, the Ben Franklin Five-and-Dime, Mr. Tom’s Barbershop, and the pool hall—just to mention a few that were important to me. Right in the center of the busy little place was the Community Rexall Drug Store owned and run by the pharmacist, “Pint” Thompson. I am not sure how he got that nickname, but we never knew him as anything else but Mr. “Pint.”
When I was a child, the building was already old. The floor was covered with small, white, hexagon tiles that amplified the sound when you walked. The tall ceilings were of pressed pie-plate metal. The walls were covered with dark wood and high shelves that stored all the supplies needed to run the store.
Near the front, on the north side of the store, was a long soda fountain bar. Going towards the rear of the store were a series of booths covered with red vinyl and the tables covered with Formica tops; these clearly were a modern affectation. The center of the store was filled with round wooden tables and chairs. In the back of the store was a raised area, fronted with a high counter where Mr. Pint and his assistant did their work.
Each day there were a series of groups that occupied the tables and booths, drank coffee and ate snacks.
Early in the morning, the men of the town—farmers, business owners, politicians, bankers and the town’s doctor gathered, discussed and solved the world’s problems. They listened to the farm and weather reports on the radio and bemoaned the state of politics.
As the men drifted away to their daily activities, they were replaced by a varying group of women who talked about problems with their children and husbands, traded recipes, and discussed the upcoming holidays. Mid-morning, like the men before them, the women headed to their daily chores.
In between the various groups, there were isolated somber men and women, who came in, sat to themselves, seldom spoke to anyone, had a cup of coffee, and then left.
Mid-afternoon, as school let out, a group of teens and pre-teens would flow into the drug store through the backdoor, laughing, roughhousing, and making noise. It often took a scornful look from one of the ladies to quiet the rowdiest of the kids. No one ever had to say, “I’ll call your Mama if you don’t settle down.” It was simply implied.
The drug store sat at the center of a small universe with its own little checks and balances.
Have a good journey and stay safe.
Dr. Sam Taggart is a retired doctor/writer/marathon runner in practice in Benton for the last 45 years. He recently released Country Doctors of Arkansas, published by the Arkansas Times. His other books, The Public’s Health: A narrative history of health and disease in Arkansas, With a Heavy Heart and We All Hear Voices are available at your local booksellers or online at amazon.com.