Growing up on HH Highway off highway 248, there was a small gas station and grocery store right next to my Grandparents’ home about three miles from our house—Orr’s Grocery. It’s owner, Dave Orr, with his wife Emma, ran the store all during my childhood. It was a place to get gas, but also a place to gather around the potbelly stove to play dominoes, chew the fat and tell fishing stories.
My grandparents, Clell and Marie Stone, sold Dave the small piece of land for his store many years ago. Grandpa helped organize turkey shoots at the store for area folks as a fun contest for prizes, like blocks of baloney or groceries. If Grandpa won, the groceries he would often take to a neighbor in need.
I remember the horseshoe tournaments they had by the store. Cecil Tinker was usually a favorite, but Cap Clevenger could also nail a ringer or two! I was about five one day when Dad and my two older brothers were headed to the truck to watch the tournament. I walked behind them. Dad turned around and said, “You’re too young. Go back in the house.” I remember wailing all the way back into the house, heartbroken.
My brother, Perry, remembered a time Grandpa told him to walk over to Dave Orr’s to buy some candy.
Perry said, “I don’t have any money.”
“That’s ok,” Grandpa replied. “Just tell Dave to put it on credit."
Perry didn’t know what that meant, but wanted some candy, so walked over from Grandpa’s to Dave Orr’s. He picked out a piece of candy and when Dave told him how much it was, Perry said, “Put it on credit.”
Perry said Dave Orr gave him a confused and angry look. Just then the bell clanged on the screen door as Grandpa walked in, laughing. Grandpa paid for the candy bar, and he and Dave Orr shared a laugh at Perry’s expense! My Aunt Carolyn explained Dave Orr did use a credit box. It was a wooden box about 4 inches wide and 14 inches long and held the credit tickets with the neighborhood people’s name on each. Dave wrote down what they purchased and when they got the money would come in and pay it off. Back then in the 40’s and 50’s gas at Dave Orr’s was 15-19 cents a gallon!
I can still hear the clicking sound of the old gas station tanks as the numbers moved while gas poured into my dad’s truck. There were two tanks, regular and ethanol. Walking into Orr’s, you would immediately in the winter smell the scent of wood burning in the stove, pipe tobacco emitting from men sitting around the stove, and Dave Orr with his bushy eyebrows and glasses hunched over the register. On special days Dad would let us buy red hots or lemon drops, and a glass bottle soda from the cooler.
My sister, Cindy, remembered one time Dave pulled out an old fiddle from underneath the counter and played a jig for her, saying, “Bet you didn’t know I could do that!” He used to play at dances in Mincy when he was a young man.
The picture is of Dave Orr in his younger years sporting a cigarette and western wear. He gave the picture to my Aunt Annie years ago. He had a soft spot in his heart for Annie. She called him High Pockets because he was tall and had long, skinny legs. He always laughed when she said that and usually gave her a piece of bubble gum.
Dave Orr was my grandpa’s fishing buddy, and his store the neighborhood hangout. At one time he had the only television, a small black and white that men would gather to watch the news or Cardinals baseball games. My brother Perry remembered he also had Cardinal baseball games on the radio with the hall-of-famer Jack Buck calling the games. Perry remembered Dave Orr always wore high top Chuck Taylor shoes which would be very fashionable today!
I miss the simplicity and community of this small gas station and grocery store. Today Amazon Prime or Wal Mart has removed much of the earthy, unrushed gathering place that we enjoyed back in the 60’s and 70’s. Neighbors actually knew each other, swapped stories, shared resources…shared lives. Today many neighborhoods in both the city and country are isolated silos of individual lives, cut-off from community via technology, busyness and fear.
I miss Dave Orr’s.