The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

Visit us on FaceBookGenerations of Memories
from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Benefields Store

By Bob G. Tannehill © 1985

Issue: May, 1985

I vaguely remember it, what it looked like either inside or out, except that it was very old, rather small, and had all sorts of signs covering the exterior... advertising soft drinks, tobacco products and baking powder, no doubt.

There were a couple of steps going up to the narrow doorway, where I can still remember sitting on occasion, wearing my Big Smith overalls with zippered bib pocket that boasted a Waltham watch, complete with braided leather chain.

My grandfather Smith, with whom I made my home there in the Brushy Mountain foothills, often bought me a plug of "tobacco." It was kinda like the plugs carried by grownups, with cellophane wrapping and metal tags. Let's see... there was apple, red mule, and bloodhound. The big difference was that my plug was licorice, not tobacco.

After all, I was only four or five years of age. But I could spit as good as any of 'em! Sometimes I'd just sit around chewin' and spittin' and whittlin' with my Barlow knife. I liked to whittle pine bark and cornstalks.

Benfield's Store was quite dark inside, especially when it was raining or cold enough to keep the door closed. It seems there was always a checkers game going on around a big cast iron stove.

The checker boards are vivid. They were made from sides of large cardboard boxes, with the squares marked off in pencil and the black ones colored in with crayon. Bottle caps were used for checkers...probably Orange Crush and NuGrape.

There was a delightful assortment in the drink box. I'd get a Nehi, or maybe a Cheerwine. Double Colas and Royal Crowns came in big bottles, too, and really hit the spot after a Moon Pie or pack of peanuts. Everette Teague would be heard later swearing there wasn't a bit of difference in the taste of a Royal Crown and RC Cola. I still think he was serious.

"Baloney" sandwiches, and cheese and crackers were popular at Benfield's Store. And when they cut off a "slab" of bologna or cheese, you got a meal; for only a nickel, too.

I reckon the men talked about the same things they talked about later, in stores owned by Price, Teague, Bowman and others in the mountain area, long after Benfield's had been torn down in order to widen the road. If it wasn't how the weather was affecting crops, it was about politics and religion.

"Dad", as I called my grandfather, was a strong Republican. He and a handful of others were outnumbered by their Democrat neighbors. The Depression hadn't given our side much support.

Religious arguments, it seemed, centered around whether you went straight to Heaven when you died, or stayed in the ground to await the Lord's return. My grandpa hung relentlessly to the latter, convinced that the only people who lived on after death were those Democrats who always came back at voting time.

If the store had a radio I don't remember it. But my grandparents had one of the few radios thereabouts. It was a Philco or Emerson or possibly a Truetone, and was battery operated.

Just about every Saturday night folks dropped in to listen to the Grand Ole Opry. During weekday evenings a neighbor might come around to join us for the Lone Ranger, Jack Armstrong (the all-American boy), or Mr. Keene (tracer of lost persons). The Briar Hoppers, a country music group out of Charlotte, was also a favorite program.

Too often, "Mom" contended, some of the men would be at our house on Friday nights to play "setback" while patting their feet to the Suppertime Frolic (over station WJJD, Chicago).

Ah, the good ole days. You know, in some ways they really were. To a tow-headed chap in overalls, with a licorice plug and Barlow in one pocket, a BB Bat and jawbreaker in another and riding back from Benfield’s Store in his grandpa's big green Essex, they were very special days.

Benfield's Store. There are new houses all around where it used to be, and nobody living in them ever set foot inside that store. Why, most of 'em never even heard of it.