R. M. Brooks Store
. . . A present day trip into the past
By LINDA JONES
A local landmark, the R. M. Brooks General Store in Rugby, is the most recent addition from Morgan County to The National Register of Historic Places. The store has been the center of social interaction and commercial exchange for community members and visitors since its inception in the early 1930s by my grandparents, R. M. and NETTIE BROOKS. To me (their granddaughter, LINDA SUE), however, its walls have been my home; the people who enter its door my extended family.
As a child we perceive people, events and circumstances with openness, innocence, curiosity, wonder, and acceptance. In our youth life is simple with few responsibilities. Food is cooked; we eat. Clothing is provided; we dress. Beds are made; we sleep. Enjoyment is there; we take. Unpleasantness occurs; we survive. Our simple trust and naiveness blind us to the imperfections of our surroundings and the flaws of the person in our lives who will shape our destiny.
It is my judgment that I have lived in a span of time and in an environment that has enabled me to experience the pioneer spirit and lifestyle, yet enjoy the modem conveniences that makes one’s life and work easier. I am glad to have lived where I did, to know the people of the community with their varied personalities, values, talents and dreams. These people, as well as my family, have given much to me. They have influenced me to become what I perceive to be a more compassionate and tolerant person. I feel privileged that I could observe their accomplishments, feel their frustrations, rejoice in their jobs, share their sorrows, and hear their dreams.
To a past generation, who through hard work, example, and perseverance have kept ajar the door of opportunity within our community, a door waiting to be fully opened by the next generation to create their own memories, legacies and dreams, I pay tribute. I share with you my experiences and observations of a time and a people to be justly respected and rightly remembered. These reflections that I share are presented as I perceived them to be.
I am often asked by visitors to the store and our "Grey Gables Bed ‘n Breakfast" if I am a descendent of the English who settled Rugby. My answer is "no." My great, great, great-grandfather, MOSES BROOKS, came to the area in the time right after the Revolutionary War. His son, SMITH BROOKS, lived in Armathwaite. HENDERSON MONROE BROOKS, his son, married ELLA LAWHORN and to their marriage were born 13 children, the first dying at birth. My grandfather, ROBERT MARION, was the second living child and first son. Great grandfather H. M. BROOKS had a store in Rugby around 1910. Aunt RUTH OWENS tells that he rode a horse seven miles from their home in Armathwaite to and from the store each day. His daughter, BERTHA, was at one time the postmistress of Rugby. He must have strongly instilled the trade of merchandising in his seven sons for all became storekeepers.
R. M. married Nettie Rosenbaum on December 18, 1916. They had three children: my father, R. O.; a daughter, LOIS; and a second son, WINTON, who was killed in his teens.
R. M. had stores in Armathwaite, Brewstertown and finally the current store in the fork of the road on Highway 52. Through my youth and formative years I remained intrigued with the dichotomy of the area. The store sitting in the fork of Highway 52 and Brewstertown Road seemed to symbolize the diversity of the two cultures of the community — the English aristocracy and the Tennessee country heritage (which is mine).
Born in the "Hall Place" on Brewstertown Road in 1938, I lived my early years in Dayton, Ohio and Detroit, Michigan. After living a short time in Oak Ridge, at the age of seven my family moved to Rugby. When I was born, my grandfather, R. M., made the statement that he would not be called "grandpa." Until he died he was affectionately known as "Daddy Bob" by everyone.
He built his store in the early 30s as a temporary building. Cutting his own logs, he constructed the main building rectangular in shape as was typical of storefronts of that period. In his haste to complete the store it was built over a pine stump. To this day the hump can be seen in the center of the floor as one enters the store. The structure was built
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in three stages, the main store, the attached house, and store rooms around the south and west sides. BYRD MONDAY and other local carpenters contributed their handiwork.
The color of the store changed over the years from yellow with green trim to the current white and rust. Advertising signs hung or were painted over the main building and out-buildings. Garrett Snuff, Clabber Girl Baking Powder, Camel Cigarettes, and sundry other popular brands dominated the store front. A giant 7-Up sign once covered the entire north side of the store. Some of my early recollections were billboards announcing the arrival of the stars from The Midday Merry-Go-Round. People would pack the Rugby Schoolhouse to see them perform. ARCHIE CAMPBELL, or "Granpappy," as he was known, was a frequent entertainer. Not knowing the future interest for country memorabilia, these signs were discarded, rusted or stolen. Some still hang on the walls inside the store.
To enter the store is to step back in time. A time when a person could say "a man’s word is his bond," knowing that once a handshake was given, a contract was sealed. The eye goes immediately to the most noticed, most used, and most appreciated aspects of the store, the pot-bellied stove and country rockers that give comfort and warmth to weary feet and cold bodies. Even on warm days, hands clasped behind backs, bodies backed up to the iron mass as though a magnet pulled by a human need for consolation, symbolized by the glowing stove on a cold winter day. The Cannon army stove is cracked and the chairs worn, but they continue to give a sense of security and satisfaction. A Knoxville reporter referred to the store as "the local living room." Indeed, from its inception the store has been a center for people not only to buy goods, but to visit and rest up for whatever awaits them when they leave.
The common saying that there is a lot of jawing, chewing and bulling going on is certainly true. On the wall there is a sign that says, "Cows may come and cows may go, but the bull in this place goes on forever." Another poster hangs over the door leading to the house reads:
God Gave Us Two Ends,
One To Sit On,
The Other To Think With.
A Man’s Success Depends
On Which End He Uses The Most.
It Is A Case Of Heads You Win
Or Tails You Lose.
Memorabilia abounds in the store. Shelves that were once filled with canned goods are now filled with the remembrances of yesteryear. A Prince Albert can, Country Gentleman tobacco in its. drawstring pouch, tin lard cans, hand churns, coffee mills, a collection of soda pop bottles and hundreds of other paraphernalia pack the shelves and line the walls. When I was growing up the store was overflowing with merchandise to equip the country person who lived in an isolated area. The front of the store contained stores of food items while the back of the store was devoted to dry goods and household items.
Bolts of cloth lined the shelves and any notion for home sewing was to be found. The Coats & Clark case filled with embroidery thread now sits unused, but in a place of prominence, thread still in the narrow draws. Granny never liked for me to cut fabric. I didn’t cut a straight line then and I still don’t. Overalls, shirts, shoes and some ready-made dresses were on the racks and in shelves on the other side. There is a round revolving nuts and bolts case sitting next to Daddy Bob’s office. Its drawers contain remnants of assorted accessories used for building and repair.
A 1974 Knoxville Journal article affirms the difficulty in getting merchandise in the earlier years and tells of prices of goods. "Those early ‘30s prices read like this: two pounds of coffee for a quarter, sugar was a nickel a pound, bacon salt sides tipped the scales at about 8 cents a pound, 20 pounds of hand scooped pinto beans were $1, bologna was a dime a pound, lard a nickel per pound, cigarettes 15 cents a pack and two cases of soft drink cost 75 cents.
"Brooks’ Store was a pioneer in stocking new products, one of the first to offer Clabber Girl Baking Powder. And it was the first store this side of the Mississippi to offer bleach for sale," states the article.
Horses and wagons were still in use. Farming and saw milling were the major sources of income. Wood stoves and outdoor toilets were still in use in my growing up years. Although we had a 32 volt Delco generator installed by Daddy Bob in 1934, electricity didn’t fully come into the area until the ‘50s, as did the telephone. Chopping wood and carrying water from the hand pump were expected chores I did to supply water and heat to the big kettle in the wash house. There we washed both clothes and body alike.
Daddy Bob and Granny always stressed service to others. This was especially observed at Christmas. The aisles of the store would be lined with fruits and candies to be bagged and ready for distribution at the Church of God to child and adult alike. A companionable time for all of us. Daddy Bob and Granny were active members of the church and it was there that I received much of my early religious education. Today, when promotions come on television for old-time gospel songs, I can sing along with the best. The Bible verses that I learned in that country church are the ones that remain with me today. Baptisms were done in the river, usually, where the old bridge at Clear Fork used to be. One would go under sedate and come up shouting with joy of new found salvation. It was a happy and celebrated occasion.
There is another memory that remains most vivid in my mind. It typified the concern one neighbor had for another. I remember my grandmother and OLLIE MONDAY with tender care lining the casket for a still-born baby. OLLIE’s husband, BYRD, had made the tiny wooden container. These compassionate women took great care to provide a suitable place of rest for their friends’ infant child. That act of kindness was forever implanted in the mind and heart of an impressionable child.
Delivery service was a courtesy service by Daddy Bob. Saturday mornings began very early, packing box after box with orders, some to be delivered twelve miles away. There are pictures of earlier trucks, but the one of my day was painted bright orange. On the door panels in bold print read "R. M. Brooks & Son" General Merchandise, Ph. 8-4703. De-
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livery day was fun for me, but I know for the adults it was a long day of hard work.
Mom tells about two deliveries to Mr. VERNON ALEXANDER. Mr. ALEXANDER came as a young man to Rugby, the son of an army officer stationed in India. To me, Mr. ALEXANDER looked the stereotype of a crusty old seaman. Small in stature, his hat, pipe, and salty language completed the picturesque image. He once exclaimed he could cuss for a minute and never use the same word twice.
Mr. ALEXANDER and his wife Ina lived at Sunnyside, across the White Oak Creek. The most common way of access was over a narrow swinging bridge. One Saturday, dad and mom delivered groceries to the ALEXANDERs, and dad was wearing baseball cleated shoes. The next delivery mom made with Aunt LOIS. Mr. ALEXANDER put his arm on mom’s shoulder, looked her straight in the eye, and mincing no words said, "You tell that #*@! husband of yours to keep his #*@! ball shoes off my bridge." Dad did not wear cleated shoes on Mr. ALEXANDER’s bridge again. While Mr. ALEXANDER’s language was colorful, it was such a part of him that in some ways it wasn’t as offensive as it was when spoken by others.
Residents of the area had an inner community crank phone system, convenient for phoning in orders to the store. After Mrs. ALEXANDER’s death, Mr. ALEXANDER moved to Ingleside (the small cottage behind the Harrow Road Cafe now owned by James and POLLY ALLEN of Knoxville). Each week, Mr. ALEXANDER would either call my mother or send a card. The message would be, "send me a truck." Mother knew what he wanted and would pack his box and send it on the truck. Mr. ALEXANDER died in 1956, the last original settler to Rugby. With his death there was a loss of a truly unique individual.
Some customers paid by cash; some bartered their goods of eggs, vegetables, chickens and fruit for grocery goods. Most charged their wares. The bill was to be paid at pay day or whenever they could. Credit is still available. OLLIE MONDAY, at age 89, is our longest continuous customer. To read a ticket book is to know the language of grocery abbreviation — early computer. Bob (bologna), pnut b (peanut butter), cig (cigarettes), chix (chicken), and cof (coffee). Daddy Bob taught me the trade of salesmanship. Never say, "Is that all?" Always say, "What else can I get for you!" Keep items pulled to the front of the shelves. The old saying "The customer is always right" prevailed. It was he who taught me to sweep with the broom. My broom can be distinguished from others because the bottom bristles are straight across the bottom. His technique kept the dust from flying everywhere by using smooth strokes.
The house being connected to the store made for easy access, but in my grandmother’s eyes, it also meant longer hours. Bob opened early and didn’t close until late at night. Sitting around the stove talking after hours was a highlight. Most always, as I remember, it was the men who sat and rocked and talked. The women were home cooking, cleaning and putting children to bed.
While the men were in prominent positions of authority, it was the women of the generation who provided the stability and consistency to the household. Women worked in the fields. They gardened and canned their produce. Eggs were collected. The necks of chickens were wrung, then they were dipped in scalding water loosening feathers to be deftly removed, finally, lighted papers singed the stubborn nubs of quills that remained. The plucked chicken was quickly cut into pieces with sharp knives, and was then fried or made into chicken and dumplings. Clothes were sewn by hand or on a tredle sewing machine. Printed flour sacks were saved until there were enough to make a garment, usually for a child, before the mother made one for herself.
At family gatherings there was still the tradition of "men first; children second sitting; and women last," eating what remained. The washing of dishes would be a time for women to share what was on their minds, each encouraging the other.
Milking a cow was not one of my strongest skills, but Granny, humored me and my small sporadic streams somehow blended with her strong sure strokes giving a steady flow of milk. I can remember churning butter and my amazement to see the white liquid turn into mounds of golden butter. Recently, I decided to make authentic Devonshire cream for crumpets and scones for dinner guests. I had envisioned when I returned to the country that cows would be easily accessible. Wrong! After much inquiry I found a second choice, Guernesey. Richer in butter content, Jersey’s are usually preferred. The farmer carried the pail of milk into the house still warm from the udder of the cow. I watched as his wife carefully poured the milk through a clean cloth into a crock straining off any debris. This ritual of long ago flooded my soul with nostalgia. I could almost touch the past and I ached for those gentler more simple times.
But I went in my car, drove home, put the milk into the refrigerator (not ice box), turned on my gas stove (not wood), put the dishes into the dishwasher (not dish pan), and selfishly thought, "I’ve got it good."
Briefly, I remember Aunt POLLY and Uncle JIM BERRY. She in her big bonnet, long dress, and big apron; he with his brown hat. Sister ROGERS who shouted in or out of church. Not to be sacrilegious, but as a child I was both intrigued and frightened by her. Somehow I suspected she wasn’t motivated by the Holy Spirit so much as the need for attention. Her brother, SPENCER NEEDHAM, was a person of gentleness and patience as he tended to the needs of his brother HOMER and sister IDA. OMER YORK would push his wheelbarrow to the store to get a supply of groceries; his wife, ETHEL, raised their large family when he was away working to earn money to support his family. There was Obb and JO POTTER who treated me and my children as though we were their own. There were the families of BREWSTERs, BARNETTs, BERTRAMs, FLETCHERs, SEABOLTs, POTTs, FROGGs, CRABTREEs, BERRYs, MONDAYs, CHOCHRANs and LETNERs. There were more that I am sure to forget as I write, but who were a vital part of the community. Mementoes of these families have been placed in The Pioneer Room of Grey Gables in tribute to these families.
Friday nights would find the younger generation sitting around the radio listening to the fights of Jack Dempsey, Joe Louis, and Jersey Joe Walcott. Using our imagination we would feint, punch, moan and groan as though we were in the ring with them. Gillette Shaving Cream commercials and the ringing of the bell between rounds are still clear sounds to my senses.
Saturday night belonged to the older generation — the fox hunters. Being a female, I wasn’t taken along on the hunt, but my brother BOBBY remembers the campfire, the enameled coffee pot, and the excitement of the men as they listened for the baying of their dogs tracking the fox. Daddy Bob took along a sleeping bag and young eyes were usually fast asleep while tall tales were going strong.
I would know them as they returned to the store after a time in the woods to continue their recanting of the night’s hunt. The odor of strongly brewed coffee, now sitting atop the iron stove, surrounded the men and fortified them for a long night of camaraderie. The group, made up of men of varied occupations and backgrounds, would sit for hours rehashing the hunt that had occurred earlier and bragging about the attributes of their hounds. My husband, BILL, tells a story told on Daddy Bob. The men would brag about their dogs and their skill for tracking the fox. Each man knew his dog by its bark, and each declared their dog was in the lead making
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it the best of the pack. Daddy Bob was insistent that his dog was in the lead, extolling its fine qualities. After several minutes of "tall dog talking," one of the hunters speaking quietly, eyes twinkling, inquired, "Bob, isn’t that your dog, Sam, sitting over there?" Sure enough there was old Sam. Daddy Bob’s bragging was done for the night.
These times together relieved the tension of their respective responsibilities in a way they enjoyed most. Dr. COOPER, physician from Oneida; SILAS HICKS, businessman from Robbins; CORDELL HULL, farmer and namesake of the U.S. Secretary of State; BILL McLeROY and R. M. were Saturday night regulars. This ritual, lasted until age caught up with them and they could hunt no more.
In recent months red fox have streaked across our driveway, a reminder of times past. I choose to believe it is a tribute to a fine and noble group of hunters whose enjoyment was not in the kill, but the sport of the hunt and the harmony between nature and man.
Saw milling was a seasonal occupation and many times the men of the community would congregate at the store waiting for work to resume. Sitting 011 nail kegs, benches, and chairs they would hone their pocket knives to a fine edge. Wood in hand, they would, with precision, take the knife from the top to bottom. A paper thin shaving would drop rhythmically to the floor of the porch. At the end of the day there would be earnest deliberation as to which pile of shavings was thinest and highest. JERRY BERRY usually won. JERRY dressed in overalls, usually with no shirt. Daddy Bob bet him he couldn’t go to Christmas bare skinned. JERRY did and received his prize, a shirt. He then preceded to come down with pneumonia. Jerry was a kind, simple honest person. He died in 1989 and was buried in what he liked to wear, his overalls. A pair hangs in the Pioneer Room, and a wooden fork carved for R. M. lies on the dresser.
An article dated 1959 was recently sent to me telling of the citizens’ concern that the Rugby Post Office would be closed. Knowing that ESTES KEFAUVER would be traveling through on Highway 52, a sheet was printed with the words, "Save Our Post Office." HENRY SEALBOLT and HENRIETTA HAMMOND stood by the side of the road with the bed sheet held high for KEFAUVER to see. He did, and with much lobbying by him and Congressman Howard Baker, the post office was retained as a Rural Station Contract Post Office. It has been nestled in the corner of the store since 1959 with my mother, VERDA COOPER BROOKS, as clerk in charge. Original post office equipment was purchased by mother and is still an integral part of today’s office.
Prior to 1959, a green mail bag hung on a nail by the store’s door. (It is still there). People placed their mail in the bag, and it was picked up by the mail carrier for out of town delivery. At that time the post office was in Kingston Lisle in Rugby. The postmistress was Miss NONA SMITH. In the summers I would ride my bike the mile to Rugby and pick up the mail. Highway 52 was a tar and graveled road. By the time I arrived at the post office the tires of my bike would be caked with tar and I would have to push it home.
It was always a treat to stop at Aunt NELL BROOKS’ home at Uffington House. She would give me cookies and milk to refresh my youthful energy. After eating, she would take me into her back parlor to play the Vitrola. The record I remember most clearly was, "Ka Ka Katie, Beautiful Katie." The upstairs sitting room at Grey Gables is called, "Aunt Nell’s Parlor" in her honor.
After the mail was fetched the contents would go into a box on the wall. Recipients would go through the mail and pull out what belonged to them. Simple and crude, it worked efficiently and honestly.
Mother brought my brother BOBBY and me to Rugby when dad joined the Navy in 1945. She came into the store to help Daddy Bob and Granny while her father-in-law recovered from cataract surgery.
A loyal family member and hard worker, she has captured the hearts and admiration of local residents and tourists alike.
In 1945 mom wrote dad the following letter. It was written in the short time it took the mail carrier to go to Armathwaite and back. He would play Johnny-pick-it-upon the truck horn to let mom know she had twenty minutes to post any last minute mail. To me, it typifies the challenges, frustration and courage of both customer and storekeeper during the difficult war years. The original letter hangs on my family room wall.
"Today is Sat. and you know what that means. We won’t have time to eat anything but pork & beans. We Rush & Rush & Rush some more until we feel like sinking right through the floor. Though we have nothing much to sell, people still come in and aggravate us like hell. When a customer comes in we hang our head, and for a few minutes nothing is said. We finally find courage and say is there something for you today and then oh lord the trouble begins.
"The things they want has no end. They’ll look you in the eye & start having a fit — For the things that they want we don’t have & can’t get. They’ll say, I want sugar, syrup & some crackers. We just can’t live off the juice of tobaccer. Then it’ll be mayonaise, corn & peas, when we know darn well we have none of these. By this time they’re getting pretty mad, but all we can say is sorry or its really to bad. They’ll sit around awhile with they’re lips sticking out and then come back for the second bout. Have you got any Bologna any lard or meat. We shake our heads no, nothing greasy or sweet. This goes on day after day—The same ole ritual we always say — No meat, no lard, not sugar or corn. I wish sometimes I’d never been born. No cig., pop, candy or gum, Come back tomorrow, we’re expecting some. No crackers, no washing powder or soap. People look at us sometimes as if we were dopes. There’s so many things we can’t even get, but we’ll survive and be better off yet. We can still eat beans, taters and bread, but without any grease it tastes kinda dead. We’re all feeling good, but I must confess, the food situation is a hell’va mess."
There are so many stories to tell, people to remember, events to share. Much has been written about THOMAS HUGHES, English social reformer, bringing the second sons of the British nobility to America in 1880 to pursue the trade and occupation of their choice. An idealist, he genuinely wanted to give these titled gentry an opportunity to pursue their occupational dreams. He led the group, after much research, to the perceived fertile land of the Cumberland Plateau. By tradition, the first sons inherited the title and the family lands. Succeeding sons were impressed to pursue those trades approved by society as suitable to their station. Law, religion, and military were the most commonly accepted vocations. If one was not suited to those areas of livelihood, then most likely the family lived in genteel poverty on allowances appropriated by their family.
A noble cause dissipated into disillusionment and failure as the reality of survival became the major struggle. Gradually, the colony dwindled to a few families who had the tenacity to stay in less than the Utopian existence of HUGHES’ vision.
A second generation of villagers were the ones I knew, and who subtly influenced me by their countenance, traditions and genteel manor. Public accounts are numerous extolling THOMAS HUGHES, and the original settlers for their Utopian dream. Great attention is acclaimed to BRIAN STAGG for his desire to preserve the remnants of what remained of the socialistic experiment. Notoriety is observed, as the current struggle ensues, and the future of the community is determined. It is, however, the generation
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after HUGHES, that I knew and affectionately remember.
While some townspeople are figures in the shadows by my youth, a hazy recollection of the essence of their being, many images are strong and secure, embodied in my mind, giving an aura of yesteryear, and what could have been, but never was. These families fulfilled the objectives of HUGHES; keeping Rugby a living, working community caretakers for the village living in the homes with dignity and style.
The women set an example of manner that gave me a longing to achieve and emulate. To this day, I can see them sitting and walking, backs straight, heads held high, hands poised neatly in their laps and holding their gloves and purse. One seldom saw them without a hat.
There were the WALTONs, KEENs. BROOKS, LOURIEs, PFAUS, ALEXANDERs, MARTINs, BERRYs, TURNERs, WICHMANs and others. Each played a part in the preservation of their ancestors, or accepted the responsibility because they had come to cherish the ambiance of the surroundings. It is with thoughtful intent that I shall be recalling these people in detail in a book I am writing to be called The Second Generation, The Legacy Continued.
Responsibility was greatly stressed in my upbringing and was a large part of my youth. Reputation, honesty and respect for a man’s name was engrained in my discipline. Living in the country opened the door to my imagination and gave impetus to my dreams. Roaming the woods, swinging from tree to tree, pretending to be Tarzan of the Jungle; gleefully placing squiggly barefoot toes into the cool spongy mud after a summer rain; snuggling under covers, listening to the radio dramas, Mr. Keene, Tracer of Lost Persons, Let’s Pretend and The Green Hornet; reading by flashlight, Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys and Pollyanna, fed the fertile mind and eased the loneliness and isolation that were the downside of rural life. Games I played as a child would cause me great concern for my grandchildren. Mumblety Peg, a game played with the opened blade of a pocket knife, especially. One would flip the handle of the knife in the air. How it landed determined the points one received. Marbles were an everyday game. Rolling a large round hoop with a stick down the road took skill and balance. Swinging in a tire swing and swimming in the river were joyful times.
When I returned home hardly a day went by without a customer commenting on Daddy Bob’s influence in their lives. Adults would extol his generosity to them as children, giving candies and compliments in abundance. He had converted his big red barn into "Bob’s Bargain Barn." The barn was crammed from rafter to rafter with all manner of items for exploration. A haven and heaven for children. Most adults said they had bought their first piece of furniture there. Daddy Bob had a sign near his office which read, "You furnish the wife, we’ll furnish the home." Many exclaim, "The piece I purchased is the finest antique I have." All boasted at the fair price they had paid. He exemplified a generation of merchants that will not be copied in style and salesmanship.
A woman of charity, Granny had someone living with her during most of her married life, and for whom she cared. Aunt MARY ANN WRIGHT came to live with my grandparents when their youngest child, WINTON, was born. She lived with them some twenty odd years until she died. Mother tells me that I would crawl into her lap feeling a special kinship to her since she, in the absence of Dr. COOPER, delivered me. By that time she was quite elderly.
One day, while sitting in her lap, I looked up at Aunt MARY ANN’s glowing white hair, thinned by time. "Aunt MARY ANN," I said, "you don’t have much hair." Smiling, she replied, "Honey that’s my glory." With youthful wisdom, I retorted, "Well, Aunty MARY ANN you don’t have much glory." Aunt MARY ANN was a religious woman who took to heart the scripture that affirmed that a woman s hair was her glory. I know that golden white hair was what I remembered best.
Hardly a day goes by without a parent bringing a child; a grandparent, a grandchild, or a tourist; to experience the essence of R. M. Brooks General Store. They come to see "Polly the Parrot" who lived with R. M. and NETTIE for over forty years. She greeted customers with "Hello," or "Polly wants a cracker." She sits in her cage in a corner of the store, stuffed and silent, as fascinating as when alive. They come to see the big fish head which hung on the store porch. It was a three hundred pound Jew fish, the largest caught off the Bradenton, Florida pier in 1937 and shipped back to Tennessee. They are disappointed to hear that it was stolen after hanging safely on the porch for forty-nine years. They come to see and to buy the hoop or rat try cheese and to taste the bologna and cheese sandwiches purchased daily by truckers, farmers and tourists. They come to see memorabilia which remain and are awed by the time lapse they feel when entering. They come and without exception say, "Stay the way you are. Don’t change. I’ll be back."
R. M. Brooks General Store has been in continual use since its construction, many years, seven days a week, from six in the morning until late at night. It has endured through World War, Depression, recessions, serving as a mainstay for Rugby community members. Its essence speaks of American values, ethics and mores which should be nurtured and strengthened. Its foe is modernization. Customers want the nature of the store to remain, but they also want the convenience of a supermarket. It will be a challenge to meet those needs, but the family is committed to the task of preserving this vital part of American life.
The R. M. Brooks General Store has served as a paradigm for the community. The Volume 1977 issue of the Rugbeian states, "the store to this day is still the commercial hub of Rugby... Indeed R. M. Brooks supplied Rugby and Brewster-town with practically everything they needed." The location of the store between the road and highway illustrates its link to the past which should not be forgotten, and its potential for the future which should be conscientiously nurtured.
The store was the center of Rugby’s political life. Every politician who ran for office made it a priority to spend time in Brooks’ Store. While candidates were there, members of local families would make trips to the store. More voters could be reached in a day in Rugby’s store than in a week of stumping. Any and all campaign posters, cards, buttons and electioneering material could be found in abundance. Then, as now, the store was used as a location for people to register to vote, pay their taxes and get shots for their animals. Posters announcing any and all community events were viewed and duly noted for good attendance.
Writing this narrative has been a privilege. It is my hope that in its reading, memories will be recalled by those who lived during the times I recanted, and the younger folk will gain enlightenment and understanding of the people who came before them.
As I wrote I observed subtle changes and contrasts. The hand pump on one side of the porch is no longer workable, and on the opposite end there is now a spigot and sink. With a twist of the handle, water from a public water supply comes gushing out for quick and easy use. The Brewstertown Road is no longer graveled, but paved smooth, an equal to Highway 52.
It seems to me these changes are indicative of the modernization that is taking place in our community. The challenges for survival its people face today is no less than the people before them.
I pray with God’s guidance and wisdom we can leave to the next generation a good place in which to live. A place where integrity and the ethic of hard work prevail. The people of the community are my priority. It is my desire to open wider the door of opportunity for the next generation as the preceding generation did for me. It would be an humble way that I could say "thank you." I know my parents and grandparents would be pleased.
FNB Chronicle, Vol. 4, No. 1 – Fall 1992
First National Bank
P.O. Box 4699
Oneida, TN 37841
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