BARBEHENN'S GENERAL STORE

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Booksie Classic
A nostalgic view of a store that served the needs of the people in a small Pennsylvania village.

Submitted: June 07, 2007

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Submitted: June 07, 2007

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BARBEHENN'S GENERAL STORE

© 2007, Wanda L. Harrell

Modern America has been inundated with an endless torrent of malls, shopping centers, enormous grocery stores, strip malls, convenience stores and super discount stores. In this fast paced world of ours, malls are what I dread most. First comes the searching for a single parking space in the midst of a ten acre lot. And secondly, there is shopping in a store that seems almost large enough to apply for statehood. Despite the drawbacks, our high-speed society constantly touts the modern advantages of shopping underneath one roof. However, this concept is not at all as contemporary as one is led to believe. You see, throughout my 1950s childhood, there was such an emporium, and at that point, it had already been around for far more years than my young mind could comprehend. Barbehenn's Store was not a small corner grocer. This particular center of trade and commerce was enclosed in one good sized building. However, under that one roof and within just four brick walls was almost anything the average person might need or want. And parking wasn't a problem; necessary spaces were located right outside the door.

Situated in the small village of Glenville, located about five miles from Hanover, Pennsylvania, was this early forerunner to a modern mall. My first memories of shopping revolve in and around that building and Mr. Wilford Barbehenn, the rather rotund proprietor of said establishment. Yes, Glenville was a very small village, but Barbehenn's was a big deal, a super store of its day, faithfully serving patrons from the village and surrounding countryside before one stop shopping was a commonly used term.

Because Barbehenn's was conveniently located, it is not the slightest stretch to state it was a forerunner of the convenience store. With nickel Cokes and Bortner's fruit-flavored soft drinks chilling in a big red Coca-Cola cooler, the store beckoned to a thirsty person in a hurry. On wire shelves and hooks were bags of Utz chips and Snyder pretzels from Hanover, red Twizzlers, Hershey bars, bread and crackers. Another cooler held milk and cream for whipping or coffee from Bupp's or Little's dairies, butter and eggs. In a freezer were Fudgsicles and Popsicles to help cool down on a hot summer day.

Foodstuffs in the form of canned goods, including everything from our locally canned Hanover brand beans to plain old lard in a tin bucket, were neatly stacked on wood shelves that seemed to extend to the sky. At the meat counter steaks, chops and ground beef were sold, but there was also a delicatessen with all the tasty delights of a deli today, including my favorites: Seltzer's Lebanon bologna and Cooper brand white American cheese. This child's delight on a hot summer day was the ice cream counter. Frozen there were large barrels of various flavors from a local dairy, all awaiting Mr. Barbehenn's heavy metal dipper to place generous scoops into a crunchy cone.

Barbehenn's was an appliance store with a small stock of minor and major appliances, including stoves and refrigerators. As a wedding gift, my maternal grandmother bought a brand spanking new Crosley Shelvador refrigerator and matching electric range for my parents at Barbehenn's. The store was also a vegetable market, carrying a fairly wide variety of fresh veggies and fruits; a fabric store with bolts of cloth, scissors, needles and myriad colors of thread; a hardware store, with everything from ten penny nails to paint to garden tools and seed; a clothing store with basic garments for men, ladies and children; a shoe store, with stacks of boxes containing shoes and boots for all members of the family; a cosmetic store with lipsticks, Blue Waltz eau de cologne, lotions and creams; and last, but not least, a United States Post Office for Glenville where Charlie, the postal clerk, would mail out that package, letter or bill. Yes, Barbehenn's had almost everything that man, woman or child might need, everything from A to Z: aspirin to zippers.

When my parents pulled up in front of Barbehenn's on a hot summer day, I was even more eager than usual to scramble out of the stifling hot car to get inside. The metal advertising sign across front door that screeched when it was opened or closed gave the reason: "Come on in, it's Kool inside." The cooler air inside Barbehenn's was most likely my introduction to air conditioning. While extremely modern, that amenity was blended with antiquated, but well-oiled floorboards that creaked as you walked across them, and that happened if a person weighed 25 pounds or 250 pounds.

Once inside, the place seemed bigger than life to this small child. I was all eyes, ears and nose. Yes, nose. There was a particular store odor that greeted each and every a patron, one that wasn't sterile or intentionally fragranced; a smell that was comparable to an attic packed with long forgotten trunks and boxes blended with current fragrances, a potent potpourri of dust and, depending on the season, whatever fresh produce managed to lend its aroma to the blend.

The first things that caught this child's eyes were the wooden bins built into the counter. The front of each bin had a frame, and within the frame were examples of whatever was in that particular drawer, whether it was screws, nails or dried lima beans. What fascinated more than the glass jars filled with colorful, penny candy were the wrapping stations. I always watched carefully as Mr. Barbehenn adeptly performed his magic. There were huge spools of twine hanging from a bar on the ceiling in, both, the front part and back rooms, heavy string that Mr. Barbehenn used to tie up parcels of every shape, sort and description in the brown paper. That paper just set waiting, in huge rolls, to be cut with a sharp metal bar on the wooden counter. I loved to watch him yank that paper out, and with a swift certain jerk against the bar, quickly have the necessary sized paper. It seemed so efficient to me, and looked like fun. Maybe, just maybe, watching Mr. Barbehenn was how my passion for wrapping packages and gifts began. I wonder.

At Christmas time, Barbehenn's was nearly as good as a trip to the North Pole for this child. Being a typical little girl, the items that stand out in my memory were the decorations and dolls. Displayed about the store were Christmas wreaths, bright lights of every color, glistening tinsel and strings of garland. Prominently arranged in the huge back room were big dolls, small dolls, walking dolls and talking dolls. I'm sure there were toys that fascinated the boys just as much, but the decorations, dolls and their little wardrobes never failed to capture my attention.

An unexpected snowstorm arrived early in the winter of my first year in school. Instead of riding the bus to school on that frigid morning, my dad drove me. We left early that morning so we could make a stop at Barbehenn's, a stop to shop for snow boots. Wearing a heavy woolen coat and scarf, I sat in a wooden chair taking in the sights and smells, patiently waiting while Mr. Barbehenn located a pair to try on me. From a large box, he slipped a pair of zippered white rubber boots with white furry cuffs, over my shoes and onto my waiting feet. To my delight, they were a perfect fit. Dad paid for them at the counter, but wrapping in the brown paper wasn't required for that particular parcel. Dad carried the empty box as I proudly wore the most beautiful boots in the world out of the store and into the snow.

After my dad dropped me off at school, I was pouting because I really didn't want to take my snow boots off, but knew I must. I smiled again when it hit me there would be another opportunity to wear them at recess. So, I pulled off my stunning white boots, carefully placing in them in the cloak closet at the back of the classroom. Like all children, I loved recess, but recess that day was more important than all the others before. As soon as the bell rang, children immediately began running out the door, darting around on the playground, shuffling around in the snow and mud like some sort of caged animals that had just broken free of their confinement. But, that rowdy behavior didn't appeal to me. After all, I was the luckiest girl in all of Glenville Elementary. I had brand new boots, the most beautiful boots in the world, and didn't want them dirtied. Instead, I chose to carefully walk through the snow, doing my best to keep them as pristine as possible. After recess and my new footwear back in the closet, my attention was not on reading about Dick and Jane and Tag, their dog, but of wearing my new boots home. Thanks to the boots from Barbehenn's store, I was one little first grader whose tootsies were not only warm and dry, they were proud feet.

When spring arrived, of course paper envelopes of seeds of all types were sold, but also bedding plants of the vegetable and flowering varieties waited at Barbehenn's before being planted in someone's garden or yard. In large boxes propped against the front and side of the building, they were displayed for all to see. For some reason, still unknown to me, I was always drawn to the peculiar combination of colorful petunias and onion sets.

Yes, Barbehenn's had just about any sort of merchandise one could want or need. Combined into one building, and within those four brick walls, a customer found: a convenience store, grocery store, produce market, deli, butcher shop, shoe store, clothing store, toy store, garden store, appliance store, fabric store, hardware store, post office, ice cream shop, cosmetic store, plant nursery and a five and dime.

The man, Wilford Barbehenn, and his store are both long gone. However, the store and the merchant remain alive and well in my memory, combining to form one of the highlights of days spent as a youngster growing up near the small village of Glenville, Pennsylvania.

 

 

 

 


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