I stood in the kitchen Tuesday morning enjoying my coffee as I listened to the rain on the tin roof of the screened porch and surveyed the calendar hanging on our refrigerator.

As a side note, I love a calendar — a real calendar that requires you to manually flip the page each month to see what events are on the horizon for the weeks ahead. This love is one that I also share for real books and a real newspaper. Although I have embraced the digital age, I still prefer paper for my consumption of the written word.

BRAD DYE: Country stores, bicycles and the freedom of summer

Photo by Brad Dye

Peterson’s Country Store sits near the fork of Brooksville Road and Betheden Road in Louisville just down the road from our farm. Growing up in rural North Mississippi, the country store was a big part of my life, serving as the one stop shop for fuel, groceries, livestock feed and basic hardware needs. These stores also serve as the social centers for the small communities that surround them.

The upcoming events that Gena had noted on the calendar had me feeling both excited and nostalgic. I read “Brad out of town” with excitement thinking about an upcoming fly fishing trip in the mountains of North Georgia near Ellijay and Blue Ridge.

Having never caught a freshwater trout, I envisioned myself holding a large rainbow or brown and found myself eagerly anticipating both the catch and the surrounding beauty of the pristine mountain streams my brother-in-law Michael Van Veckhoven and I were to fish in the upcoming days.

Scanning the remaining weeks of May, I paused at Gena’s entry for “Exam Week” and suddenly found myself back in a small wooden school desk at East Union Attendance Center. In my mind, I was sitting in Mrs. Rorie’s fifth-grade classroom. It was the last day of school, all my exams were finished and I sat there at my desk staring headlong into the glorious freedom of the summer before me.

That feeling has to be one of the best that we experience in life, and those childhood summers were truly a cornucopia of outdoor adventures for me. Typically, those daily activities involved two things: my bicycle and my trusty German shepherd/collie mix Big Ben. I would leave my house in the morning with the understanding that I needed to be back, in the words of my mom, “Before dark.”

My parents were obviously not worried about me during those daylong odysseys or I wouldn’t have been allowed to roam as freely as I did. When my plans did not involve going to a friend’s house or fishing, they were certain to include a trip to one of several country stores in the hamlets surrounding Ellistown.

I would also regularly stop at my Mamaw Jewel’s during lunchtime. Sipping my coffee while reliving those memories this week, I found myself longing to pedal up the rocky hill to her house once more, longing to sip a glass of lemonade while eating the tomato and grilled cheese sandwiches she would always make for me.

Usually, I would leave her house after lunch and make the short trip to Ellistown Grocery or pedal my way to Jug Fork to visit Anderson Grocery. I enjoyed many Cokes while sitting on the wooden drink boxes in front of those stores. Why did those drinks taste so much better then? I firmly believe it was the glass bottle that was always ice cold.

As I relived those memories, I could taste the sandwich and feel the burn in the back of my throat when the Coke hit it. I wonder how many of those I drank over the years in those old stores. I also wonder how many miles I put on that bicycle.

I often feel nostalgic about those times as I’m quite certain we all do about moments in our childhood. It was a simpler time. I never called my parents on my cell phone because cell phones didn’t exist.

The reality is that I never had to call. My mom had a beauty shop (that’s what we call a salon in the country), and she had a network of customers (which, at the time, I thought of as “little old ladies”) that kept her informed of my whereabouts as effectively as any FBI or CIA network. Thus, she knew where I was and didn’t worry.

Now that I am nearing “little old man” status myself, I realize how thankful I am for my childhood. Rural Mississippi often gets a bad reputation when it comes to national press, but I can think of no finer people and no finer place to have been reared.

I am reminded daily of my love for the country store when I pass Peterson’s Country Store near our farm. If you ever find yourself on Brooksville Road near Louisville, they make a fine ham and cheese sandwich, and the Cokes are ice cold. Make plans this week to get out and roam the outdoor spaces that surround you and, until next time, I look forward to seeing you out there in our great outdoors.

Email outdoors columnist Brad Dye at braddye@comcast.net.

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