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Texas | Columns | "Once Upon A Line"

The Old Ammannsville Drug Store

by David Knape

As a kid I can always remember going to the Ammannsville "Drug Store". I never could figure out why they called it a drug store. It sold no drugs. It was just a beer joint that specialized in beer and dominoes. It was a bare bones type of place but it had "atmosphere"!

Any time dad was in Ammannsville he always figured out a way to make a trip to town and a visit to the drug store. My sister and I would tag along. For us it was exciting because we knew we would get a treat. Dad would always buy us an ice cream cone. Believe it or not, the drug store sold ice cream. They only had three flavors, vanilla, chocolate and strawberry. Old Justin, the wise sage and owner, would scoop the ice cream out of a cannister from a small freezer behind the bar. Then we would sit on the high bar stools by the dark oak wood bar or play on the unique swivel tables. They had some of these old tables that had swivel seats on them. You could swing back and forth and in and out. I remember there were only two of these type tables. They were worn out and rusty but lots of fun. For us kids, it was like a ride at an amusement park.

There was always a beat up table in the back of the store. It had seen its better days. The legs were chinked and dented. The paint was gone. But this was the Domino table, always ready for action. Seems like there was always a game going on. Old Justin would sometimes play as well, in between opening beer bottles. Back then all beer was in bottles (long-necks) and you had to open the bottle with a metal bottle opener or "Church Key" as they were called. The church key would be on a string behind the bar. Old Justin never got in a hurry. If it was his turn to play during the game and you wanted a beer, you just had to wait. The whole place would smell of smoke and chewing tobacco. Everyone did one or the other back then. There was a spittoon by the domino table. Some would hit, some would miss!

The old drug store had creaky wooden floors and large windows that were always open. The windows seemed huge to me. Big enough to drive a truck through. It had a door in front and one in the back. The doors were always open so that the place seemed more like a barn than a store. It was always cool inside the drug store. A welcome change from the scorching Texas heat. Yellowjackets would be flying around. Mud daubers would build nests in the corners. A cat might wander up on the porch now and then.

Dad would drink a beer and then have another. He loved his beer. Where he was raised, beer was the beverage of choice, as common as water.

Dad would light up his pipe and have a smoke and visit with whoever was in the store at the time. Everyone knew everyone else. There were no strangers. Most everybody was kin or related. There was never any trouble.

Just farmers shooting the bull!

My sister and I would get bored waiting for dad so we would venture outside and look around. We would just wander around and see what we could see. The road in front of the store was pea gravel. It was kind of a dirty orange color and it made a scrunchy sound when you drove on it. The gravel would get in our shoes and hurt our toes. We would always be taking our shoes off to empty the stones. There was no traffic so you could walk down the middle of the road. No cars came by at all. Well maybe one...an hour!

We would walk down to the dance hall and pick pecans or stroll over to the church playground and ride the see-saws. These were the heaviest see-saws I have ever seen. The boards were like timbers from Noah's ark.

Thick and heavy. About two foot wide. It was an effort for us just to lift them up. When they hit the ground they would go BLAM and rattle and reverberate. For fun, we would stand in the middle of the board and try to balance without falling off. Such simple fun back then.

Eventually dad would come find us and we would all ride back to grandpa's place. Everybody was happy with the trip to the Drug Store. Ammannsville memories. Long ago.

Now the history of the drug store and why it was called that. It goes back to 1917 when J.J.Fletsam bought a parcel of land from Edward Rabel and constructed two buildings. One building was used as a doctor's office and drugstore. The other was a pool room. The drugstore actually had stockholders. They included: F.J. Parma; J.J. Fletsam; Dr. Anderson Decalb Lewis; and J.M. Bartos. The doctor sold out and moved away. Mr. Dobrava and Charles Naiser later bought out the other shareholders to become sole owners. Then in 1923 the buildings and land were sold to Matej Bohac. In 1924 the business was sold to Justin Bartos.

Justin Bartos is the owner I remember. He was always kind and soft-spoken. He walked slow and talked slow. Never got in a hurry. But he was always so friendly and likeable. Like an old grandpa. He talked in low tones with a Czech accent. He always had time.

Through the years the store sold medicines, soda water, beer, wine and tobacco. There were also some candy, snacks and chips. The store was a favorite meeting place for people after mass. People visited here and played pool, cards and dominoes. The store at one time had a nickelodean and...even slot machines once upon a time.

The other building, the pool room, was run by Matej Bohac and Sons as a distribution center for the "Meat Club" during World War II. Meat was rationed and each month a member would take turns donating a calf for buthering. The cuts of meat were then distributed on a rotating basis.

Justin Bartos continued to operate the drugstore for many years. In 1983, he bacame ill. His wife continued to run the business for another two years. After that the drug store closed.

I really don't know if the drug store is still there. I hope it is. Even if it is not open, I hope the building is still there. It was a landmark, a restful spot. A place full of memories for me as a young kid. It was the place for people to gather and talk. To tell stories and catch up on gossip and the local news. A meeting place for the whole area. Full of farmers and hard working people who shared a common ancestory and bond. A place of welcome and good cheer. No frills, but lots of friendliness.

It will always be a good memory for me.

A place of mind I can return to.

For me, it hasn't changed a bit.

I remember it just as it was then.

The old Ammannsville Drug Store!

© D. Knape
March 8, 2014
"Once Upon A Line" by d.knape

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