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Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Neighborhood Stores, Community Life, and Hazard, Wyoming by Sarah J. McNeal

(Mom standing in front of the house where I grew up)

I remember when the word community meant knowing your neighbors, going to the same church and school with the people you knew. Central to the community, was the little neighborhood store. The store was always small, but had a little bit of everything including gasoline pumps outside. And, by the way, I remember when gas was 15 cents a gallon.

The store had grocery items like flour, sugar, shortening, eggs, usually from a local farmer, along with shelves of canned goods. Behind the counter was the kid magnet rows of candy usually for pennies. There was always the big metal drink box that kept bottled drinks super cold with circulating ice water. There were no canned drinks back then. A kid could make money by gathering up all the glass drink bottles in the neighborhood. No neighborhood store was complete without cleaning items, brooms, mops, laundry detergent and so on as well as cleaning supplies for humans like soap and shampoo.

No matter when I went to the store, usually running errands for my mother, I would meet someone I knew. I felt a part of the community in those days. I knew the owners and their daughter very well because they went to my church across the street from their store. The wife was my Sunday school teacher. Once a person has known life on a small scale like that, it sticks in the mind and heart forever.

Now that my town has grown into a metropolitan city with an international airport, a bunch of huge banks downtown that have taken the place of department stores like Belk’s, Ivey’s, and Sears and Roebuck, there’s not much reason to venture into town. All those stores have moved into malls or classy shopping centers. Shopping centers and malls may be convenient, and I can understand why they’ve become so popular, but when I go to any of them, it’s rare to meet anyone I know.  
I realize I’m waxing nostalgic here, but I miss that sense of community I had as a kid. I live one street off from one of the central streets that runs straight through the heart of town. I can still see the remnants of what was once a little community until it was eaten up by the big city. I wonder sometimes if it would be such a terrible thing if we didn’t have gasoline so available any more. I would imagine we would convert back to community life in which we could walk or ride a bike to a neighborhood store for those household supplies and venture into town only once in a great while for something special. I would know my neighbors better and feel more a part of my community. Maybe it would be a good thing if we didn’t have to get in our cars to get to stores and services.

All my western stories take place in a community like the one I remember from my childhood. Even though Hazard, Wyoming is fictional, it’s the kind of town I grew up in. Hazard is a place where everybody knows each other and they take care of each other. It’s the kind of place where I would love to live. I recently submitted a new Wilding western to PRP titled Home for the Heart. Banjo’s twin boys, Hank and Kit have grown into men. Hank owns a ranch and avoids marriage at all costs, and Kit, who suffers from PTSD after WWII, is a lawyer running for mayor of Hazard.

Here is a bit about Home for the Heart:

Love doesn’t come easy…for some, it may never come at all.
Lucille Thoroughgood is a social worker for orphan children. She is known to the town’s folk as dependable, logical, determined, and…well, stubborn. But Lucille has a secret affection for the determined bachelor, Hank Wilding.
Hank Wilding loved hard and lost. He has sworn to never marry. After Lucille makes a bargain with him, he agrees to allow troubled and physically challenged children to ride his horses as equine therapy. One of the orphans is a half Lakota boy, Chayton, who reminds Hank of his own father’s painful childhood.  
But danger follows in the shadows of the rejected, embittered teenager that may take the life of someone Hank and the town of Hazard holds dear.

So, as you can see, I’ve been living in memory lane for a bit. Right now I’m plotting out Kit’s story and the irrepressible, June Wingate. Things are really heatin’ up in Hazard.

 Sarah J. McNeal is a multi-published author of several genres including time travel, paranormal, western and historical fiction. She is a retired ER and Critical Care nurse who lives in North Carolina with her four-legged children, Lily, the Golden Retriever and Liberty, the cat. Besides her devotion to writing, she also has a great love of music and plays several instruments including violin, bagpipes, guitar and harmonica. Her books and short stories may be found at Prairie Rose Publications and its imprints Painted Pony Books, and Fire Star Press. Some of her fantasy and paranormal books may also be found at Publishing by Rebecca Vickery and Victory Tales Press. She welcomes you to her website and social media:

Note: country store picture courtesy of Pinterest


  1. Yeah. Love the Wilding stories. I too grew up in a small town and our memories are very similiar. Best on the new stories. Doris

    1. Thank you, Doris.
      Charlotte was a small city, or a large town depending on the interpretation of those words when we first arrived. Over the years, Charlotte has grown and grown. Neighborhoods don't have a little store or church at their centers holding people together now. But I can see even today the remnants of where they once were. Charlotte has grown into a big city with glass and steel buildings and highways like twisted spaghetti that I'm not always certain I can navigate these days. I miss the way it used to be.

  2. I grew up much the same way as I suppose most of us did born back in the 50's. I miss those things also. I have moved 20 miles away from where I grew up. When I go back to my hometown it very rare that I will see a familiar face at one of the many strip malls. The town has spread out in all four directions. What had once been fields of corn are now new housing additions. Rush hour begins at 2:30 in the afternoon. But like you, my sweetest memories are of the time when neighbors knew each other and if you did something wrong your momma knew about it before you got home.

    1. LOL That's true, Barb, about Moms knowing what trouble we got into before we got home. My sister and I were free to roam the neighborhood and forest in those days. (We actually had a forest.) My parents didn't worry about us. We were free and wild like kids are supposed to be, I would never allow my kids to do that now. Without a sense of community, people seem to have lost their moral compass and compassion for their neighbors. Trust has evaporated between neighbors.
      It's so validating having you echo my feelings about the loss of community. Thank you, Barb.

  3. Sarah--I began reading your post before lunch, but stopped so we could go to the supermarket early. So, I began at the beginning and read the whole thing. I understand the sense of community--somewhat. We moved so much before I was ten, and were never in the same place more than a year--sometimes only 6 months. But at age ten, I had that some, but the West Texas town was already growing.
    However, my grandparents lived in the farming community their entire lives, and since we lived there from my birth until I was 4, that place is as you describe, with the one stores that supplied everything. Mother and Granny bought flour there in the pretty flowered sacks that became our dresses.
    But as much as I might like the idea, the reality is I enjoy a town that has everything. In my life, my community is the road I live on and the neighbors I've know many years. It's also the one church we have attended, now since 1974, There's a community that means something to me.
    I like that you use your memories to create Hazard. That sort of idea gives us writers a great base from which to launch a story.
    I've used my memories from that farming community where I was born and where my grandparents lived down the road, with train tracks running through the little town in stories titled "Wish for the Moon" and also "Beyond the Blue Mountains." And yes, there are really low blue mountains around there.
    Keep writing...the world needs good, clean, exciting stories like yours that are told from the heart.

    1. I always love your comments, Celia. You always have something interesting to say.
      When my family first moved from Pennsylvania to Charlotte, we lived in 3 different places before my parents bought the house we would live in until my sister and I grew up and left home to live on our own. All 3 of our rental homes were situated in a community with a store at the center. In one place we had, not only the store, but our school and the church. I walked to all of those places because they were so close. Once we moved into our permanent home, Charlotte was already beginning to grow. The little store was about a mile from our house and between our house and the school. Still, the elementary, junior high and high school I attended had all the kids I had gone to school with from the first grade on up, and the church was where I went for Girl Scouts just down the road from our house.
      Thank you so much for your very kind remarks about my stories. I see you use your memories for your stories, too. I like the depth and heart writing from memories give a story. My hope is readers will like that down home feeling, too.
      BTW, I just got Beyond the Blue Mountains in the mail this afternoon. I can't wait to read it.
      Thank you so much for coming to read my post and leaving such a lovely comment, Celia.

  4. My town was a tiny bit bigger back when I was growing up, but several things you mentioned rang true. I often financed my own "Coke" habit by running up and down the highway collecting bottles to exchange for a 10 cent drink cooled in the metal chest-type cooler at the gas station. About the cheapest I ever remember gas being was about 22 cents, but at that age, I wasn't paying much attention to the price of gas. My grandfather ran the first gas station in our county, but gave it up long before I was born. Our biggest store was the two floor Montgomery-Ward store. Your article brought back some pleasant memories.

    1. John, I know we can't bring back the pleasant days of our childhood, but it certainly is calming and warm to think of them in a crazy world like the one we have now. I never thought about terrorists back then.
      As far as I know, I have never been in a Montgomery-Ward store, although I did know about them. I do remember Grants and Kresses downtown and how every drug store had a snack bar where we could buy lunch or a milkshake. All these things seem weird in present day matters, don't they? What kid these days would put down their electronic device to hunt drink bottles and collect the money to buy a coca cola or a candy bar?
      Thank you so much for dropping in and commenting. I really appreciate it.

  5. Sarah,

    Your walk down memory lane brought back many similar memories for me, but a difference is that I grew up out in the country, and I didn't spend much time in town. When we went to town, which was a couple of times a week, I never went off by myself (meaning I was always with my parents or my grandpa).

    One of my favorite going-to-town memories was stopping at Farmer's Creamery for an ice cream or a pop (Orange Nehi was my favorite--and we did not call it 'soda').

    My mom (now 82) tells a story of going to town on Saturday mornings with a couple of their frying chickens to sell to the feed store so her family could go to the Saturday movie matinee. :-) Another story she tells is during the winter when they went to the movies, her dad/my grandpa would drain the water from their car radiator into a bucket and take it inside the theater and set it beside the other buckets of radiator water. This was to keep it from freezing while they watched the movie. Then they'd pour it back into the radiator when it was time to go home.

    1. In the south here in North Carolina, we don't call carbonated drinks soda or pop; we call it a coke even if it isn't coca cola or we call them drinks. As in, "Somebody run to the store and get some cokes" or "get some drinks." And we do say "run" or "carry me", neither of which should be taken literally. LOL
      Don't you just love listening to stories of former days from the elders? I guess that story about the water from the radiator was before antifreeze. Wow, can you imagine buying movie tickets with money from chickens you sold? That's almost like a barter. I love these stories.
      Thank you so much for coming to visit my blog and commenting, Kaye. All the best to your corner of Mother Earth.