It is with mixed emotions I write this little story.
Albury is a village that has always been close to my heart. I suppose that is only natural in a way, for I was born there and spent my early years there.
However, I always have this feeling of sadness when I pass through from time to time, one only has to blink nowadays and you’ve missed it.
Perhaps, depending on your point view, perhaps it is close to becoming a ghost town. I guess that is a fairly common predicament facing many small country villages in the twenty-first century, what with the modern car and better roads; it has become inevitable.
There are so many little memories of Albury left for me to relive. However, I think the old Albury Store brings forth some of the most delightful recollections. Not only for me but for those folk who can recall over the years, purchasing groceries from the store or just filling up their car with petrol? Remember when it was only a few pence per gallon?
They say the shop was built in 1882, perhaps about one hundred metres to the rear of where it is now located alongside the State Highway. In fact, I have been reliably informed the Main Road through Albury was re-aligned three times over the years; the third time leaving the store far from the passing traffic. So, it was moved with the aid of a traction engine in 1908, to its present site alongside the Main Road.
It must have been about the beginning of 1992 when I last ventured into the old Albury Store. At that stage, a family whose name escapes me at the moment owned the building. They had abandoned it several years before, to just let it stand empty for a number of years. Yet, while in residence, that family had turned the old store into a sort of grocery museum, unfortunately, that did not pay the bills and it just faded away, quickly turning into something of an eyesore. Nevertheless, I do recall with a measure of sadness that day in February 1992.
Being abandoned for a number of years at that point, the building was looking much the worse for wear. Yet those previous colours of the original veranda posts, as I remember them, were still visible through the years of grime.
To the moan of rusting hinges, a sound akin to something out of an Alfred Hitchcock movie, I opened the door and stepped into another moment in time.
Cobwebs hung where they were never seen in my day. Yet, after all, those years, I could not help notice it was almost the same as when I was a kid, away back in the early 1940’s. Oiled timber floorboards were just the same, although I noticed the coconut matting runner in front of the counter was missing.
It was with the hint of a tear, that all those precious little memories came flooding back.
The spot where all those big jars of lollies used to sit at one end of the counter near the front window. In my mind, I still dream of those huge ‘gobstoppers' stashed in one of those big round glass jars, boy they were yummy. If careful enough, I could at one-time string them out to last almost half a day. That is of course when I was ever allowed one. Then there was those giant pink and white candy walking sticks and the tantalizing fudge bars. Cripes, all this fantasizing was exciting my taste buds something awful.
Then, there were all those other goodies for which we used to slide a penny or a halfpenny across the wooden counter. Gouge marks and scratches from years of wear and tear were still visible on that counter, under all the dust and grime. I suppose those marks gave the old counter a bit of character.
There were those packets of tobacco I recall, neatly stacked on the shelf in full view of the prospective customer, Bears Dark, Bears Light, Park Drive, Greys, to name but a few, for about a shilling or one and sixpence per packet?
My taste buds were recalling those juicy apples, all individually wrapped in soft-textured tissue paper and packed neatly in layers inside a timber box. And then there were the bananas and the oranges along with other numerous fruit in season.
As a kid, when fresh fruit arrived in store, I remember a delightful fragrance wafting throughout the shop. Each piece of produce was delicately handled with affection. One could never compare the fruit and vegetables of the modern-day supermarket, where perishables are kept in a cool store to be later displayed to an onslaught of fifty thousand housewives, who systematically punch, squeeze and bruise all those scrumptious pieces of fruit within their reach.
I wandered past a bench, near the rear of the store where I recalled a large round of cheese sat. With a large wicked looking knife, the storekeeper would cut a wedge off that cheese, before plonking it on the old counterbalance scales and wrapping it in brown paper for each customer.
Looking up at the ceiling, in the corner, I could still see the large hooks and visualize the roll of bacon swinging there. Lifted down, that roll was sliced on a hand operated bacon slicer, for those lucky enough to feast on bacon and eggs at breakfast.
You know, in amongst all this, I have no idea how we survived through those early years. It was quite a common sight for the storekeeper back then, to have just served a customer with a tank full of petrol and topped up with their car or tractor with oil, before coming back to cut a wedge of the cheese or slice a pound of bacon, without any thought for health and safety.
Oh, my God, just imagine the hullabaloo if we did that today! Like blowflies swarming around the dunny door, bureaucrats would arrive in droves, flapping their official forms around while threatening this and that.
On Thursday evenings after the train from the city passed through our village, I recall collecting the weekly parcel of bread, left in a special box on the Store veranda. My mother usually bought several Vienna loaves each week, year in year out. Why can’t we have those big square loves? I once whined. Can’t remember the answer I received. Bet I got a flea in the ear.
My sister and I would carry this parcel of bread home. I suppose I could have been about seven years old at that stage, maybe eight. The bread was still warm and fresh from the bakery in the city that morning. Oh, boy. That bread was so lip-smacking good, I can still taste it. We would occasionally, pick the centre out of one of the loaves on the way home and then get all panicky as we neared the gate, hoping mum would not notice as we tried to stick the crust back together with a bit of spit? Of course, as every reader well knows, mothers have eyes in the back of their head and ears that can hear a gnat pass wind in the next county.
Without even examining the parcel, mum knew what we had been up to. We suddenly remembered some important unfinished task down the back of the shed and knew we should make our self-imposed exile last until she calmed down.
The storekeepers I can recall as a youngster were Toffee Adams, Jack Campbell, Leo Rolland, and Joe Cosgriff.
I was a little bit older when Leo and Joe owned the store, but as a kid I can recall Jack Campbell, he had red hair and a face full of freckles. Flies doings, he told all the village kids. He would also whistle, non-stop the same three notes of the same old tune. Damned if I know what it was, perhaps he didn’t either. At least he was happy, that’s all that mattered.
The one storekeeper who seems prominent in my early memory was Toffee Adams. I was only knee high to a grasshopper then, but I can still see those sparkling eyes and the round jovial face. That short stocky man wore a spotless white apron over a pink woollen singlet buttoned up to the neck and the half-mast trousers held up with wide elastic braces. His head was as bald as a baby’s bottom, except for a smidgen of grey fluff masquerading as hair, above each ear. He claimed his head was the fly’s skating rink and the fluff above his ears were the grandstands for a fly audience.
Well, of course, we all believed him!
Why shouldn't we?
At the age of just four or five years old, it sounded exceptionally plausible. Well?
Vaguely, I can just recall the red brick bake-house that Toffee operated from behind the house next door. I can recall my mother telling me that, well before I came along, she worked for a time as a waitress in the tearooms attached to the bake-house.
Sadly, that is in the past. Shelves that once held items of nutritional value in that once a proud country store is long gone. Instead, on the day of my visit they were caked with dust, along with a few items depicting the village’s past.
The store is no longer the focal point of a thriving country village. Where once one could have leaned against the faded veranda post, rolled a smoke and discussed the weather. Or perhaps informed all those who cared to listen, that given half a chance, the publican could do a better job of running the country.