Time moves slowly at Dean's Store, and we managed to avoid any display of Christmas until after Thanksgiving. Program Director Kyle Bennett (who is much younger and stronger than I am) carefully retrieved the tree and trimmings from the attic, and I spent the two days following Thanksgiving putting "memories" on the store's tree.
Many of the items are ho-hum... glittery snowflakes, red ball ornaments, some tinsel; a Santa hat made from Coca-Cola-patterned fabric for the tree topper; a huge bow and some tiny bows crafted from red bandanna material, a tribute to the town's train/railroad heritage, and a treasured memory from years ago when our daughter, Mary (who died in 1998), made the bows for a "train tree" at the Woodstock Public Library. But decorating the tree always slows down when I begin to put the little red felt and velvet stockings on the limbs. The stockings are labeled with the names of gentlemen who were regulars at the daily Dean's Store morning gatherings over the last few decades. There are 48 stockings, and the list of names reads like the index to a Woodstock history book.
When you match occupations with the names, you quickly discover that there's no monopoly on any particular business. Most of the guys, except for Linton Dean who ran the store, had to leave their businesses to come by for a break. Hank Priest ran the auto parts store just up the street between Morgan Hardware and Mr. Howard's jewelry store. His wife, Lee Etta, could run things for a few minutes. O.E. Morgan probably could hang around for longer since he had some hired help, and some free help from his wife, Sara. Handyman Jerry Poole was his own boss, could spend the day if he chose.
Minister and educator E.T. Booth's retirement years numbered more than his working years, and he spent much quality time conversing with neighbors and friends, including the guys at Dean's Store. Grocers James Poor and Byron Holbert often managed to sit in on the sessions. The News-Shopper ran smoothly while Bill Godwin dropped in. Banker Smith Johnston found the store to be a welcome break from the financial world, and one-time barber Alton Edwards, even today, leaves his tire business to enjoy a gab-fest with the guys.
With Herb Priest's retirement, perhaps he'll be a bit more faithful to drop by, much as his father did years ago. There are still folks around who remember Gordon Williams. For many years he was the elections supervisor when all of Woodstock voted at the same precinct. On Election Day, he probably did not show up at Dean's Store. The same was true for Glenn Hubbard, who seldom missed a day, and for James Childers, who found time to hang out between his insulation business duties and working at the polls.
Local politicians, in and out of office, found camaraderie with the fellows. A few stockings boast names of mayors... Jim Barnes, W.B. Anderson (of Woodstock Gas and Coal, and active in the poultry industry), Bill Drinkard (retired from AJC, and son-in-law of Linton Dean), Miller Barnes (retired architect and husband of Bertha McAfee, granddaughter of Dr. Will Dean), and Hunter Ingram, a regular at the store until his death in 2002, the same year that regulars Jay Brownlee, Doyle Thomas and Hubbard died.
There are other mayors and councilmen, an impressive list of VIPs whose lives were examples to all of us. Perhaps their common legacy is that they each saw the advantage of The Gathering, of taking time to fellowship and share, to talk and listen, to seek advice, to reminisce.
There are no Christmas stockings on the tree with women's names. Women have no one place like the men have at Dean's Store. It might be just as well. We would be moving the furniture periodically (pun intended). We might think we had to have coffee. We would likely have other, more pressing, appointments at the allotted time. ("Pressing" is also pun intended. Many mornings while the MOTH - Man of the House - is at the store, I'm ironing.) And the real disadvantage of women being in that situation is that we would not be excited about sitting around for over an hour in a "store" where nothing is for sale!
Juanita Hughes is the retired manager of the Woodstock Public Library.