Boiled Peanuts

I walk inside to pay for gas. There is a cardboard box near the counter. The box is filled with Ziplock baggies of boiled peanuts. On the bags are handwritten words: “P-Nuts $1.00.”

An old gas station. They have the old pumps with spinning numbers. There is a handwritten sign on the front door: “No dogs in the bathrooms.”

I wonder how that sign came to be.

There are men sitting in chairs out front. One man holds a plastic Coke bottle full of brown spit. The other men are relaxing on the axis of the wheel of life.

There are two Auburn University caps, one Roll Tide, and a cowboy hat. A dog sleeps beside them.

“Howdy,” says one man. “How ya din today?”

It’s been a long time since anyone asked me how I was “din.”

My answer is pure reflex. One I can’t lose.

“Middlin’,” I say. That’s what old timers in my youth said. Phrases like that were used at feed stores, covered-dish socials, and in hardware store aisles, while weighing a pound of nails.

“How ‘bout y’all?” I ask.

One man spits. “If I’s din any better, wouldn’t be able to stand myself.”

I pump gas. When the pump reaches seventy dollars it shuts off. Seventy big ones. It feels like highway robbery.

Long ago, my daddy thought paying ninety-six cents per gallon gas was disgusting. He would mumble colorful words, then say: “When I was a kid, gas was only TWENTY-FIVE cents.”

My granddaddy would say the exact same thing. Only he would add: “I remember when gas was a DIME a gallon.”

And so it went. I come from a long line of old men who reminisce about the price of crude oil.

These were old-world gentlemen who carved pine sticks with pocket knives. Every day, a few more of these men disappear, and I miss them. When they’re gone, who’s going to complain about the price of gasoline?

Before the War, my grandfather pumped gas at a country store. He wore a ball cap and wiped people’s windshields. He spent days beneath the shade, holding a Coke bottle, telling travelers to “be safe” just before they drove away.

Which is the country way of saying “life is precious.”

The man with the spit bottle says, “You stayin’ outta trouble today, son?”

“No sir,” I say. “I’m always in trouble.”

“Must be married then.”

A good chuckle is had by all. The laughing wakes the dog.

I walk inside to pay for gas. There is a cardboard box near the counter. The box is filled with Ziplock baggies of boiled peanuts. On the bags are handwritten words: “P-Nuts $1.00.”

A dollar. You can’t even air up your tires for a dollar anymore.

“My son bulled them peanuts,” the cashier says. “His cajun ones always sell fast. He’s only fifteen.”

I buy three bags.

I walk outside. The men haven’t moved since I last saw them. The man with the spit bottle winks when he sees the peanuts I just bought.

The fifteen-year-old is his grandson. When he tells me this, I’m obliged to ask about the kid. Here in the country, it’s rude not to ask about someone’s grandchild.

The old man says the fifteen-year-old is brilliant. Funny. A fisherman. A musician. A cook. Faster than all boys in North America. More handsome than a locomotive. Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.

If there is anything more magnificent than a granddaddy bragging on his grandbaby, I don’t care to know what it is.

Our conversation ends. The man bids me goodbye. He says, “Be safe, now.”

Anyway, my highest ambition in life is to someday sit in front of a gas station, or hardware store, or courthouse, or barbershop, and smile at people. Maybe if I’m lucky, they’ll write about how they miss a slower era, when phones weren’t supposed to fit in your pockets. When people were nice. When gas was cheaper.

I’ve got a long way to drive. I’m due in Opelika tonight.

These peanuts are unbelievable.

Be safe.

31 comments

  1. Beth Reed - April 18, 2018 5:48 am

    I miss those old guys and slower era. When I was younger we always stopped before going in and I would always come out with a Dr.pepper and a bag of salted peanuts. One always told me you’s gonna rot those purty white teeth. I think that he was wise beyond his years as I am now sporting dentures. Hmm think I would love a bag of salted peanuts and a Dr.Pepper. you be safe now. Beth xx

    Reply
  2. Sandi in FL - April 18, 2018 7:20 am

    Reading this post makes me yearn for a bag of those boiled peanuts, and I don’t even like them!
    Hope you chamed, captivated and delighted the folks in Opelike as well as you do your loyal readers!

    Reply
    • Sandi in FL - April 18, 2018 7:21 am

      “Chamed” in my comment above is supposed to be CHARMED!

      Reply
    • LindaD - April 18, 2018 2:05 pm

      He sure did! He was wonderful!

      Reply
  3. Marilyn Vance - April 18, 2018 8:41 am

    Love them ‘bulled’ peanuts!

    Reply
  4. wgarysmith - April 18, 2018 10:24 am

    Went in a lot of country stores and fillin’ stations when I was traveling. Always brought back memories of when I was a “yungun”. I have recently noticed my good byes have turned into a “stay safes”.
    I guess it comes from my up bringing but more likely my age.
    Stay safe Sean

    Reply
  5. Trina V. - April 18, 2018 11:01 am

    What wonderful memories of those slower days. We always called the place where the old men sat and talked the liar’s bench. I bet if I asked my students (seniors) what a liar’s bench is, none of them could tell me. I’m sad for these younger generations who have never experienced those slow days of the past.

    Reply
  6. Susan - April 18, 2018 11:40 am

    My Daddy always told us to “be particular on the road” and that was his way of saying “be safe”. What a joy, pleasure, and honor to grow up around people who love you and want you to be safe. Your memories make me cry and/or smile every day. I miss the memories you talk about. Keep doing what you are doing and be particular on the road.

    Reply
  7. Robert dean - April 18, 2018 12:49 pm

    I resemble those remarks. Boiled p-nuts.

    Reply
  8. Jody - April 18, 2018 12:49 pm

    Save some of those peanuts for Jamie

    Reply
  9. Jack Darnell - April 18, 2018 12:54 pm

    We have a friend from maine who tried boiled p-nuts when passing thru NC. Can’t stand them. We offer to buy her some every time we pass ’em on the side of the road. No sell yet@! LOL Good one!

    Reply
  10. Scott - April 18, 2018 12:54 pm

    I used to frequent a station like that one in Chancellor, AL a few decades ago…. they also had a grandma dipping snuff in a rocking chair….

    Reply
  11. Carol ann ROTHWELL - April 18, 2018 1:32 pm

    I hope that way of life never fades Sean,but I’m afraid like a everything else we once knew is going.
    Politician’s and their greed,and no respect for God & country,regardless of what they lie to us about to get elected…..
    Yes we really do need to be safe….Got to pray a lot more now than ever,for God to do just that for our old Christian way’s & values!!
    You stay safe & keep reminding us of what is really important in this journey down thoes dusty
    roads!!
    Love ya.👼!

    Reply
  12. Connie Havard Ryland - April 18, 2018 2:00 pm

    Sweet. The older I get, the more I appreciate my memories of country life. Thank you.

    Reply
  13. Jack Quanstrum - April 18, 2018 2:45 pm

    Thank you for that southern story!

    Reply
  14. Pat - April 18, 2018 2:47 pm

    This really brought back early childhood memories to me…my parents owned a Mom and Pop grocery as several others did along our street. Probably none of those had air conditioning, thus screen doors. But air conditioning was an up and coming thing and usually (for advertisement) there was a sign on the screen door of those who were lucky enough to have air conditioning, that said “Come on in it’s Kool inside”. Of course an advertisement for Kool cigarettes!

    Reply
  15. Marinan Brewer - April 18, 2018 3:10 pm

    so true

    Reply
  16. Carl, another pilgrim - April 18, 2018 3:24 pm

    Miss them older men sitting in front of the store.

    Reply
  17. Linda Lou - April 18, 2018 3:24 pm

    Oh, my! A good one! Thanks!

    Reply
  18. LARRY WALL - April 18, 2018 3:31 pm

    Great post, Sean. Before retiring 10 years ago, my job allowed me to travel all over my state of Georgia and I stopped many times, over the 43 years of my travels, at country stores and little mom and pop gas stations. I loved to find someone to chat with for a bit sitting out front, or sometimes around a stove in winter. Sometimes I would learn some bit of new trivia but I always learned something about people. And I too bought those boiled peanuts and once I bought a cattle whip from the station owner who made them while passing the day. Still have it today as a memorykeeper.

    Reply
  19. Sue Arnold - April 18, 2018 5:47 pm

    Oh, how we all long for those days of our childhood. Sidney Williams Shell Stetion in Greenville, Alabama. The place to be. And I’m old enough to remember 29-cents gas at Sidney’s where we drank little coca colas in the glass bottle with peanuts poured in it and bought Ike and Mikes (a.k.a.stage planks) for a nickel. Loved today’s story.!❤️

    Reply
  20. muthahun - April 18, 2018 5:52 pm

    My Uncle Albert had a garage right over the road. I think gas was 42¢ a gallon, but maybe that was just in the stories my folks told. There was also a grease stand made of wood that when we got big enough, we could jump from one side to the other on. In the store next door they sold sodas and ice cream and candy and pretty much anything anyone wanted if you gave my Aunt Gladys enough lead time… and today’s word is ‘evocative’! Thanks for the memories, Sean.

    Reply
  21. Edna B. - April 18, 2018 6:03 pm

    I, too, want to thank you for the trip down memory lane. I grew up in those “slower” days. Life was good. You have a safe journey, hugs, Edna B.

    Reply
  22. Gordon - April 18, 2018 7:20 pm

    My grandparents owed a “Mom and Pop” grocery store in Florala, AL-right on busy hiway 331 heading to the beach. Most of their customers were locals, but every now and then they would welcome some “out-of-towers”, especially when Papa displayed the home-grown watermelons on the sidewalk out front. I learned so much about people and life while working as a “stock boy” and grocery bagger (of course I took those bags of groceries to the customers vehicle) for my wonderful grandparents. Memories abound! By the way, when those watermelons were delivered, Papa would always tell me to put a good one in the back cooler so we could enjoy ice-cold watermelon later in the afternoon. Talk about goooooodddd? Yum!!

    Reply
  23. Barbara Schweck - April 19, 2018 1:32 am

    You are in Opelika tonight?!!!! I am in Opelika tonight! You and your wife and dog should stop by!!!

    Reply
  24. Tish Gressang - April 19, 2018 10:50 am

    LOVE this story…. and I love boiled peanuts !! We are moving back south to Florida this summer… can’t wait to be able to get boiled peanuts again (grew up in Alabama, been in Maryland for almost 30 years).

    Reply
  25. Jon Dragonfly - April 19, 2018 2:39 pm

    “How ya doin t’day?” And my Dad would always answer, “Fair to middlin'”.
    I was grown and past middle age before I learned that ‘fair to middling’ is the proper term for a average grade of cotton!

    Reply
  26. D. MOORE - April 19, 2018 4:38 pm

    Well you pretty much just brought back the best visual of N.C. and growing up there.
    If you ever met me as a child it was usually fainting in a Stuckey’s after riding in a hot station wagon and having the cold A/C hit me walking in. Boiled P’nuts, “fair to middlin” and sweet men in overalls asking how your are…simpler times.

    Reply
  27. Gayla Warner - April 22, 2018 8:46 pm

    I love your posts. This one may be my fave.

    Reply
  28. Steve - April 22, 2018 10:37 pm

    Never knew a kid that liked to fish get into trouble. Think about it!

    Reply
  29. Lois Young - April 26, 2018 11:15 pm

    OK. I don’t like boiled peanuts, but I love your writing. Makes my day every time I read it. Thank you.

    Reply

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