Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The Place to go in Mountain Meadow

Mountain Meadow’s nerve center is the Mountain Meadow General Store, better known as Tarpley’s to the locals. In Special Delivery, it’s where Jake first sees Holly, after all.
Like Mountain Meadow, Tarpley’s isn’t an actual store. It is a composite that draws upon many stores I’ve visited over the years. I’ll start with the one from my childhood: the Prospect Store in Prospect, Kentucky.
When I was a kid, I made the trek down the highway along with my brothers or some of my older neighbors to what was then the only store in Prospect. That’s certainly not the case anymore as this area grew into a well-to-do suburb or Louisville with shopping centers, McMansions and some real mansions too. However, back in the dark ages, it was a small grocery with wooden floors, narrow aisles, and a really great candy display.
My friends and I would walk along the highway, pump our arms to get truck drivers to blow their air horns, and collect returnable soft drink bottles people had tossed out their windows. At three cents each in a day when penny candy was really a penny, every bottle collected was a huge bonus to whatever allowance we had to spend. Mr. Snowden would take our returns, hand us the change, and we’d promptly spend it again for whatever sweet treats were making our mouths water.
The Prospect Store had a meat counter in the back, and I remember stopping to look at the cow tongues and thinking, “Ew, how could anyone eat that?”
The original store’s no longer there. It’s a Marathon gas station now with a modern convenience store in its place. I guess that’s progress, but it sure is a loss in pure character.
The second store I had in mind when I imagined Tarpley’s is one in Danville, Virginia called Midtown Market. It reminds me somewhat of the Prospect Store with its crowded aisles and wood floors. It’s got a great meat counter and some of the best chicken salad around, bar none.
During my years of working in television and visiting and living in the South, I have also been inside any number of small groceries across the region. I quickly discovered a few things about them. 1) There’s usually a group of older guys who hang around out front during summer or inside during colder weather telling bullshit stories and drinking either soft drinks or coffee. Some stores even give them a place to sit and do that. 2) If you need to know where something or someone is, the store owners are the people to talk to. Just be prepared to share some of your own life story with them. 3) Never go into a small country store thinking that you’re going to grab something quick and get on home. Sharing some of the yarn-telling by either dishing out your own BS or listening to someone else’s is part of the charm.
Tarpley’s and real stores like it are the South’s way of reminding us to slow down and take the time to say hello. I hate to see them disappear only to be replaced by lookalike convenience stores that just don’t have that same character. I guess one of the sad effects of the pervasiveness of technology and big corporations is we are losing our sense of regionalism.
So Tarpley’s is a salute to places like Midtown and the Prospect Store. Thanks, Mr. Snowden, for leaving me with some rich childhood memories.

Hey, and don’t forget—Special Delivery releases in three weeks! Click here for buy links where you can pre-order.

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