1930 Rua Arthur opened the Post Office Drug Store in its new building
facing the newly paved U.S. Highway 67, also known as the Bankhead
Highway and the Broadway
of America. A few yards behind the building were the Cotton Belt
Railroad tracks and a depot. The drug store occupied one half of the
new building; the other half was a grocery operated by Rua's brother
Eric. The store was not air-conditioned, but even in mid-summer it
was usually comfortable. Fans at the back of the store kept the air
As a child growing up on a farm five miles south of Saltillo,
I looked forward to an opportunity to visit the store. On my first
day of school my sister took me there to get supplies. Earlier that
morning Miss Mae Green had given a list to each of the pupils in the
primer class. From a lower shelf near the entrance to the drug store
we found construction paper, a small box of Crayola brand crayons,
a small jar of white paste, scissors with blunt edges, and a pencil.
I would be returning to the store many times during the next twelve
years, later needing Masterpiece note paper, the only brand, Miss
Beulah Mitchell, our English teacher, allowed us students to use.
Over the years I also bought bottles of Skrip ink, blue or black;
fountain pens; a compass; and loose leaf binders.
Running almost half the length of a wall on one side of the store
was a marble-topped counter. A large mirror faced the customers as
they approached the counter behind which Mr. Arthur offered one dip
of either vanilla, strawberry, or chocolate ice cream on a crispy
cone for 5 cents. A double dip cost 10 cents. He bought only Boedeker
ice cream brought from Dallas
in a refrigerated truck. The ice cream was of a higher quality than
was available at the two grocery stores. A customer could also buy
a Boedeker Dixie cup, a small paper cup with orange sherbet inside.
The circular top for the cup featured a photo of a movie star on the
back side of the cover. The tops became collectibles. Of course, one
could also buy Coca-cola in bottles.
Baby Ruth, Milky Way, and Three Musketeers and other kinds of candy
bars were available.
The magazine rack displayed Superman and Captain Marvel comic books
as well as pulp magazines with titles such as True Story, Secrets,
True Detective and True Romance. Mr. Arthur reported to a parent if
one of his/her children bought a magazine from the latter group. The
post office was located at the back of the building with its window
where one went to buy stamps. Mr. Arthur was the postmaster, appointed
by President Herbert Hoover. Mrs. Rhema Arthur, Rua's wife, was an
assistant. She also spent some of her time working behind the counter
in the store.
My family's mail was delivered by a rural carrier. I envied the people
in town who opened each day one of the boxes beside the window, each
with numbers in gold lettering, and took their mail. Every day except
Sundays a speeding express train took the outgoing mail in a canvas
bag from a rod extending from a metal pole behind the post office
and also left behind a bag of incoming mail.
During World War
II the bags contained a great deal more mail than in previous
years. Relatives of service men and women sent v-mail letters to the
locals, who exchanged information with each other about their sons
and husbands. The Arthurs often asked these relatives about the local
soldiers and sailors serving the country.
For a period of time during the store's existence Mrs. Arthur cooked
hamburgers before it was time to open the store. She wrapped them
in paper and placed them in a pressure cooker, closing the lid tightly
in order to keep the burgers warm until noontime when patrons purchased
them to eat with Coca-cola or another soft drink. Once I remember
being in the store during the lunch break from school. I was tantalized
by the odor of the warm burgers and just happened to have a dime to
purchase one of them. What a pleasant change from the cold sausage
and biscuit which I usually ate for lunch.
On the counter was an unabridged dictionary and beside it a knife
from a place setting of utensils. In order to determine which of two
customers would treat the other to a soda, each took the knife and
opened the dictionary. The customer who opened to a page with the
lower digit on the right side of the page number was obligated to
pay for the soda. If there was a tie, the customers opened the dictionary
again. This form of gambling was accepted by the community even though
a few years earlier another merchant was pressured to take a pool
table out of his store.
One of the attractions for me once I reached the age of twelve was
the lending library in the drug store. For a few pennies one could
borrow a hard-cover book, usually fiction. I developed an interest
in historical fiction, after having read books of that genre I rented
from the store. A classmate once rented a copy of a salacious novel
about one of the mistresses of Charles II. She made the mistake of
taking the book to our English class. Miss Mitchell sent the girl
to the store and commanded her to return the book.
If Mr. Arthur extended horizontally a red strip of metal attached
to a pole in front of the store, a Greyhound bus would stop for passengers.
Those buses headed east displayed the name of the exotic city Memphis
above the driver's windshield. Those buses headed west displayed Dallas,
a reference to the name of a city I was somewhat more familiar with
because of radio programs originating from there and because many
former neighbors had moved to Dallas.
While waiting for the bus, passengers would often sit in chairs with
metal backs that were placed around small circular tables at the back
of the store. As a child, a ride on a Greyhound appeared to be a glamorous
experience. Once when I was seven my sister boarded a bus in front
of the drug store. She was headed to West
Texas. The driver let me climb the steps to board the bus . Once
the driver had stowed my sister's luggage in the compartment, it was
time for me to get off. When I was a teenager, I had my first opportunity
to ride the Greyhound. After having bought tickets at the drug store,
my brother, one of his classmates and I rode the short distance to
Mt. Vernon for
an afternoon football game.
Eventually the building that housed the two stores became an antique
store, and then later was destroyed by fire. It will remain in my
memory as a source of several pleasurable experiences.