Glendon, Gordon, Marjorie and Marian Pierce, brothers and sisters, operated Pierces Store in the mountain hamlet of North Shrewsbury when I lived there in the sixties and seventies.
Most of my days began at the store, stopping on my way to work at the Rutland Herald, for a few minutes of chatter, a cup of coffee, a few laughs. Glendon presided, kept the wood stove going, and went out front when somebody needed gas.
Pierces Store had been operating in North Shrewsbury for a century and a quarter when I lived there. The place, like any good Vermont country store, was more than a store, it was a social center of the community.
But customers got fewer, another store opened nearby, and eventually Pierces’ closed. Years passed, then a community/volunteer effort got it going again.
Recently, I stopped by the place, and as always remembered the Pierces, now all long gone. I never had better friends, finer neighbors, and I tried to say so when speaking at their funerals.
The other day my nostalgic gaze centered on the front porch where Glendon sat there on pleasant days. I often joined him there and, one afternoon, he told me a story that had to do with the bench on which we were seated.
There was a hired girl, he said, who years ago worked and boarded on a farm a mile down Cold River Road . She milked cows and pitched hay, doing a Vermont hill farm’s chores, five and a half days each week.
She was shy and, as Glendon said, “a little different.” Every Saturday, soon after noon, she showed up at the store with money in her pocket from a week’s wages. Glendon said that the great joy of her life was to buy a plug of tobacco and sit here on the front porch bench. She would chew, watch people come and go, cars pass by, and now and then select another soda from the store cooler.
All afternoon she sat there, seldom speaking, as Glendon said, but “happy as could be.” People spoke to her, and she smiled back. Those Saturday afternoons, he said, were what she lived for.
She worked on that farm for decades, until she died.
The thought occurred the other day, in North Shrewsbury, that all the people who knew that woman are gone. Any trace of her, any fragment of memory of her, will disappear, I thought, when I am gone. She exists in the consciousness of the world only by one slender thread of remembrance of a story told on a sunny afternoon 40 years ago. It was then, I thought, that I should write this.