The other day I thought about the Moland Store. A footnote in the history of a very obscure place, but in my mind kind of emblematic. A relic of a former time, on its last legs, but I was there briefly at the end of the era.
I’m sure my family bought groceries at the Moland Store when my dad was a boy. Back then, there were little country stores scattered around the prairie, at strategic intervals. Inventories were small (though storekeepers tried to cater to their regular customers’ preferences). It was a long way to town, and the high prices were a trade-off for time saved.
One of my earliest memories is of a day when my aunt and her boyfriend took my brother and me to a circus in the Twin Cities. On the way back we were caught in a snowstorm and forced to take refuge in a different country store, some miles north of town. It was the first adventure of my life, and I did not acquit myself with distinction. Cried until I fell asleep.
Our nearest store was the Moland Store, located at the intersection of a couple of gravel roads. The community of Moland boasted a church, a brick creamery (still in operation when I was a boy, I think), a swamp, and the store, a clapboard building with a false front (I think; memory might be deceiving me), just like in the westerns.
They had modernized to an extent by my day. There were a couple aisles of shelves where customers could select their purchases. This, to the best of my information, was a change from the old days, when the procedure was for the customer to go to the counter and place her order. The grocer would then fetch the items requested, bag or box them up, and hand it all over in exchange for cash (or, I’m sure in my family’s case, credit quite frequently).
The grocer in those days was a guy about my dad’s age, who had one arm. I assume he lost the other in World War II. He had a tremendous skill that impressed the socks off me. He’d take a grocery bag, one of those brown paper ones folded flat, and give it a flick with his good arm. It would open right out so he could fill it up. I tried the trick myself at home, with old, re-folded bags, but never even came close. I met an amateur magician once, who could tie a knot in a silk scarf with a flick of his wrist, and I thought of the Moland Store guy.
Dad didn’t like to shop there. A lot of it probably had to do with the high prices. But I suspect he also felt a little guilty. His family probably traded there often when he was a boy. When they finally bought a car, it became more time- and cost-effective to drive to Kenyon (where there were three competing grocery stores) to get food at cheaper prices. Leaving the Moland Store in his rear view mirror, a victim of history and mobility.