Atlantic, NC -- Schools
Unfortunately, for most people, with the ending of our formal education also comes the ending of all but the most feasible of dreams. Responsibilities take the place of futuristic plans and time constraints keep us solidly nailed down to reality. But, oh, how I could dream back then as I envisioned all sorts of glory and adventure.
I was never one to say, "This is what I want to do when I grow up." For me, career choices were as plentiful as leaves on a tree and my mind was apt to change and fluctuate as rapidly as a leaf falling to the ground and caught in a swirl of wind. It's funny, but no matter what the occupation was for that particular day, the common denominator was money and glamour. Leave the desk jobs and faces in crowds for someone else, I was sure that my future held much more.
It is funny how time has a way of changing how you look at things. Ten years ago, I saw my family's country store as a necessary evil of sorts. It was a place that summoned me out of bed every Sunday morning at 6:15. It was a place that kept my father occupied seven days a week and a place where Irish potatoes were known to rot and require sorting through. In even the wildest of my daydreams back then I would never have imagined the feelings that I feel today some ten years later.
Now I realize what an invaluable learning tool -- an education -- that old store was. Any public relations skills that I possess today can be directly attributed to that store and to the wonderful man that ran it. Working there gave me an opportunity to see firsthand what the business world was all about. I was able to learn bits and pieces about all kinds of trades, as the men looking for a certain tool or part would explain what it was for and how to use it. I came to know the proper etiquette of hanging out around the old kerosene stove, when it was okay to speak and when to set back and listen to the older and wiser men. I was able to hear stories that spanned generations and was given the opportunity to see my heritage come alive through these many old salts that came in for an ice-cold drink from the drink-box.
That old store and the occupants within her weathered old walls were my greatest teachers. That store taught me something far more important than what you could find in a book. That store taught me life in the purest sense. It's funny, but to this day one of my fondest memories is to think back to delivering a grocery order to one of the trawlers early on a Sunday morning. The smell of the air, the beauty in the morning sun on the sparkling water and the feel of stepping on the deck of the intriguing vessel are as vivid now as if only yesterday.
But just as childhood dreams melt away into the reality of life, old country stores have a way of fading away too. People want convenience and modernization. They want to pay less and get more, and unfortunately, that's not what old country stores are all about. But, in an area that has not yet succumbed to tourism, where people still work hard for every cent they earn, there really is no one to blame.
I am saddened by the thought that my children will probably never experience this unique place called "Winston Hill & Sons." They'll see pictures and I will try to tell them what a neat place it was, but it will not be the same. They won't be able to get a Pepsi-Cola out of the drinkbox and see the ice shooting up when they pop open the cap. They won't be able to roast peanuts on top of the ancient kerosene potbellied stove, nor will they ever deliver a sack of groceries or clean out a bunch of nasty rotten potatoes.
But to my grandfather Winston and to my father Roderick, here's a toast. For all of the hours that you put into her, it was well worth it, for as long as there is an Atlantic, people will remember Winston's. It was a part of the community as well as the family. But for me, it was by far my greatest teacher and I an certain, I was its most grateful pupil.
Reprinted from the MAILBOAT, Winter 1991, Vol. 1, No. 4
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