Supermarkets are impressive, but he prefers Sam Cutchins’

Published 9:24 am Wednesday, October 19, 2011

by James D. ‘Archie’ Howell

It is after supper; my father picks up a well worn, oak split basket, assembles a quantity of eggs in it and says to all listening, “I believe I’ll go to Sam Cutchins’.”

He means, of course, that he is going to Sam Cutchins’ store and trade the eggs in the basket for something that we want or need. It was mostly something that he wanted or something that he wanted to do. Sam Cutchins operates a small store at the intersection of the Delaware and Sedley roads, across from our church. The store is typical of most country stores — and a little larger than the average. It’s open on a regular schedule.

Sam Cutchins will trade his products for eggs or other locally produced items. There’s no bickering or bartering over price; Sam Cutchins is an honest person, as is my father. The exchange rate is amiably set, products selected and socializing begun. It’s been done that way since I can remember. Local people come and go for this item or that, and they share a few words with whoever is currently in the store.

Sam Cutchins occasionally has a large round of cheese, from which he will give you a taste. A taste always leads to a purchase, or in the case of my father, maybe a trade. The cheese is always a cheddar. My father loves cheese (mostly toasted in an iron skillet) and most of the time, in our kitchen, there is a chunk of the rich, oily cheddar that is only found in large rounds. The cheese is covered by a large round box. Sam Cutchins has to sell a lot of cheese to warrant such a large purchase. It is not a large community, but somehow he manages.

My father sometimes brings home a loaf of Nolde’s white bread. It’s something special to us. It’s a light-textured, sweet-tasting, already-sliced loaf. Virtually any kind of sandwich is possible with a loaf of bread: Miracle Whip and tomatoes in the summer, along with any kind or combination of meat, peanut butter, apple butter, cheese, cracklins, honey, jams and jellies, and other delicacies at other times. Or maybe just bread and butter or just Miracle Whip for a filling. The possibilities are limitless. Lettuce is unknown to us as a sandwich ingredient. Sliced bread is something special; our daily fare is biscuits. Lots and lots of biscuits.

Sam Cutchins’ store is one of many within our traveling neighborhood. There’s Walter Young Sr.’s store on a corner of his property and Delaware Road. There’s Mr Scott’s place about a half-mile toward Sedley from Sam Cutchins’ store. On the Country Club Road, just within the village limits, is a store; on the way to Courtland from our house is Stith’s Store; a mile or so farther, on the same side of the road is Spaits’s Corner. From our house to Franklin is a small store operated by “Plug” Carr. I don’t know the official name; we always call it “Plug’s.” Just beyond that is the Westview Tearoom, right by Mr. Council’s yard. The smaller store closed and “Plug” moved to operate the Tearoom. Thereafter, the Tearoom was “Plugs” or the Tearoom, according to our whims.

Virtually all of our outings in the truck involve a stop at one of these places.

These small country stores are a part of my heritage. All do not operate all the time. The hours vary according to the vagaries and inclinations of the operator. Farmers gather at these locations on a fairly regular basis; although no one has a schedule, nor does he want one. More local farming information is shared in these places than through any other medium. Who’s planting what and how is routine fare. Who’s digging peanuts or harvesting corn or soybeans is shared freely, with an ease born of long familiarity and mutual respect. Farm equipment is traded and loaned without even a handshake. Trust is vital in the farming community.

My bright, shiny, air-conditioned, well advertised, 24-hours-a-day supermarket is a tribute to free enterprise. Products from around the world, in different languages, fill deep shelves, alongside well known domestic products. Frozen (imagine that, frozen) goods fill aisles 50 feet long. We are indeed a melting pot of tastes as well as people.

Still, the homey comfort of Sam Cutchins’ is warm in my heart, and when I turn left off Delaware road onto Sedley Road, I can see his store, just over there, on the right. I am home.

JAMES D. “ARCHIE” HOWELL is a Southampton County native and a 1955 graduate of Franklin High School. His email address is