Recently, several of us have recalled our memories of country stores and the importance they played in the rural communities. Of course, the one I remember most vividly is the general store at Ima. It was begun by Grandad Moncus and his brother, Burnace, and later run entirely by Burnace. By the time I came along, it was quite modern, having gas pumps (real pumps) and a kerosene refrigerator.
We recalled the groceries we could purchase in those stores, especially those items which could be eaten on the premises in the event the people were just passing through at meal time. Quick snacks included a can of sardines or Vienna sausages, some crackers, and a few pieces of hard candy. A real meal might include a can of salmon, more crackers as bakery bread was not available, a can of corn if the coal heater had a fire, a small round of long horn cheese, and either a can of tomatoes or peaches for dessert. The tomatoes were among the favorite cans and were eaten right from the can as were any of the other canned items. The owner usually had a container of sugar sitting on the counter so the hungry cowboy could add a handful to the tomatoes.
Can openers were seldom available, but they were unnecessary when a pocket knife or paring knife could be used just as easily. In later years, sardine cans and coffee cans had keys attached so the user could open those cans fairly easily unless he started the key just a bit crooked on the prescribed metal strip. The knife might then have to be used because impatience would set in and make the use of the key impossible.
Water was most often the accompanying beverage unless the store owner had a pot of coffee boiling on that heater, Later, soft drinks (soda pops) came into popularity at those stores and were savored along with the meals. A few people liked to drink canned milk--sometimes directly from the can and sometimes mixed with a dipper of water.
Eating utensils were furnished by the customer as no paper plates, cups or plastic utensils were heard of in those days. An empty can usually served as a cup for water or any other beverage. The pocket knife was the main utensil for eating from the various cans although many customers carried a spoon and sometimes even a fork in the saddle bags. The juice from the tomatoes and peaches was drank directly from the can and was enjoyed as a major treat.
Often at noon, several people could be seen at the store enjoying their meals and having friendly visits with neighbors or strangers. The news of the day was discussed, and the mail was read. By today's standards, those meals might not sound very good, but some of us still grab a can of sardines or Vienna sausages, some crackers and cheese and are ready to head to the country for a little picnic on the edge of those canyons. Country stores were special gathering places a few years ago and certainly served as the center of the communities.
Lynn Moncus is a Tucumcari resident and can be contacted through the Quay County Sun at 461-1952.