I’m familiar with those little county stores that dotted the landscape before interstate highways replaced them with chain restaurants, fast food and service stations. My Grandfather had one. Old men sat in rocking chairs outside in the summer and gathered around a black pot bellied stove in the winter, spitting tobacco and solving the world’s problems. Their world being the State. They ate bologna that was sliced off a long red tube on crackers. Coke machines cost a dime. For the purpose of clarification, all carbonated drinks in the South were called cokes.
People were in and out, mostly neighbors but occasionally an out of towner would stop for gas and exchange pleasantries. The conversations revolved around politics, religion and sometimes what Sister Rosemary did on Friday night when her husband was out of town.
The place was a kaleidoscope of smells, smoke, ripe fruit, vegetables, gas fumes. The winter smelled like wood burning, sweat from rarely washed overalls. My favorite was Vitalis Hair Oil. It conjures up memories of my Grandfather.
These were the carved out human arteries linking The Gulf of Mexico to the Tennessee State line.
George Wallace was the Governor of Alabama. He had an army of people working the think tank country stores. Opinion polls to rival any computer program. These dressed down strangers ate moon pies and hung around long enough to gauge what issues this community of voters supported. They’d be back in Montgomery in time to work the data and write the carbon copy “Rocking Chair Society ” speeches.
People forget that Wallace started his political career as a liberal. He was beaten badly in that first election. He promised himself that would never happen again. He would become a Populist, spoon feeding the voters what they wanted to hear.
Bill Clinton played this game to an extent. Once elected, he did what he wanted to do. Clinton was the best politician I’ve ever seen in action. He was so good he managed to convince his constituents that everything he did had been their idea all along.
Southern politicians are rare, very specific breed. If they’re good, they’re dangerous. I’m positive that it was a Southern politician who coined the phrase, “Are you going to believe what I’m telling you or are you going to believe your lying eyes?”