By Jody Fuller
When I was a kid, going to the store was a big deal. It really was. Getting an ice-cold Coca-Cola was always at the top of my list. In Opelika, we’d walk to O.B. Ennis—now Wright’s—on the trails above the train tracks. The store was tiny back then. It even had a little washateria on the side. We’d get our snacks from the store and our cold drink from the machine outside and then go sit underneath the old clickety-clack wooden bridge that used to cross the tracks on Pleasant Drive. The pigeons didn’t pay us any attention. Those are good memories.
My granddaddy owned a washateria in Dadeville. I was just a little squirt, but I remember it well. The building was hot, but the Cokes were cold, and the Bugles fit perfectly on my little fingers like claws.
Back then, we spent every other weekend up there. The alternate weekends were spent at our dad’s house in Montgomery. Once he passed away in the spring of ’81, we spent every weekend with our grandparents.
When granddaddy shut down the washateria and grandmamma retired from the hospital, we even spent the summers up there and used to go everywhere with them, and by “everywhere” I mean to church and to the old country store. That’s about it. They didn’t go a lot of places. They “went to town” once a week, and there was always the occasional appointment with Doc Swindall.
I can’t really recall whether or not they actually called him “Doc” or not. I may have gotten that from an overabundance of Gunsmoke or Little House on the Prairie. Nevertheless, they loved them some Doctor Swindall.
Wylie and I went just about everywhere with them, especially if they were going to the old country store owned by the Phillips family. They were such nice people. Before that, my Uncle Curwood had it. Mr. Eugene Phillips had the coldest “Co-Colas” in Dadeville, and there was a basketball hoop to the side of the parking lot. Their son Donald always had his ball in hand.
If it was just one of the grandparents, Wylie and I would both ride shotgun. We were little back then. We always went, except for this one time in the summer of ’81. Granddaddy was going to the store and asked if we wanted to go. We were playing outside, probably collecting redbugs with our skin. We were always very good at that. Now that I’m living up in these parts, I’ve reconnected with those darn redbugs, but I digress.
We didn’t go. Why we didn’t go can only be described as a God thing. Some may say coincidence, but I know better. We didn’t go. We always went. I doubled down on this purposely. My faith was solidified on this day.
Several minutes later, a car pulled into the driveway. I’m not sure who it was, but they told us granddaddy had been in accident. I don’t recall the details; I just know that he was okay, with the exception of a few minor abrasions and contusions. I do remember being at the hospital, but I don’t remember if we carried him or he was taken by ambulance. That’s not important. He was okay. We had 10 more years left with our beloved granddaddy.
I think he ran into the back of a logging truck. I think. They only thing that remains crystal clear in my mind was the condition of his car. The driver’s side was okay. The steering wheel may have been pushed in a little, but the passenger’s side was pushed in all the way through the seat. Back then, we didn’t wear seatbelts, either. In other words, if we had been with granddaddy like all the times before, you likely wouldn’t be reading this article right now. That hurts me to even fathom that. Thanks for reading, by the way.
It might sound overly dramatic to say that God spared us that day. Heck, he’s spared me through not only nearly three years in Iraq, but also decades of being stupid.
We go to town almost daily. Sometimes “town” means going to New Site to pick up a few groceries or just to get a Coke. Most of the time, however, it means going to Dadeville and passing in front of that store. It’s closed now. Mrs. Phillips passed away two years ago—Eugene in 1999.
Today, I saw Donald outside his house, so I stopped. We had a good chat. Many more will follow, I’m sure. He lives right next to the store. I hadn’t seen him in 35 years. I almost didn’t recognize him without his basketball, and he almost didn’t recognize me without my Coke. Maybe he’ll open it back up one day. We need an old country store. I mean, who really wants to go to town?
Jody Fuller is a comic, a speaker, and a soldier. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, please visit www.jodyfuller.com.