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The Post Office
Drug Store
at Saltillo, Texas


by Robert G. Cowser
Robert G. Cowser

In 1930 Rua Arthur opened the Post Office Drug Store in its new building facing the newly paved U.S. Highway 67, also known as the Bankhead Highway and the Broadway of America. A few yards behind the building were the Cotton Belt Railroad tracks and a depot. The drug store occupied one half of the new building; the other half was a grocery operated by Rua's brother Eric. The store was not air-conditioned, but even in mid-summer it was usually comfortable. Fans at the back of the store kept the air circulating.

As a child growing up on a farm five miles south of Saltillo, I looked forward to an opportunity to visit the store. On my first day of school my sister took me there to get supplies. Earlier that morning Miss Mae Green had given a list to each of the pupils in the primer class. From a lower shelf near the entrance to the drug store we found construction paper, a small box of Crayola brand crayons, a small jar of white paste, scissors with blunt edges, and a pencil. I would be returning to the store many times during the next twelve years, later needing Masterpiece note paper, the only brand, Miss Beulah Mitchell, our English teacher, allowed us students to use. Over the years I also bought bottles of Skrip ink, blue or black; fountain pens; a compass; and loose leaf binders.

Running almost half the length of a wall on one side of the store was a marble-topped counter. A large mirror faced the customers as they approached the counter behind which Mr. Arthur offered one dip of either vanilla, strawberry, or chocolate ice cream on a crispy cone for 5 cents. A double dip cost 10 cents. He bought only Boedeker ice cream brought from Dallas in a refrigerated truck. The ice cream was of a higher quality than was available at the two grocery stores. A customer could also buy a Boedeker Dixie cup, a small paper cup with orange sherbet inside. The circular top for the cup featured a photo of a movie star on the back side of the cover. The tops became collectibles. Of course, one could also buy Coca-cola in bottles. Baby Ruth, Milky Way, and Three Musketeers and other kinds of candy bars were available.

The magazine rack displayed Superman and Captain Marvel comic books as well as pulp magazines with titles such as True Story, Secrets, True Detective and True Romance. Mr. Arthur reported to a parent if one of his/her children bought a magazine from the latter group. The post office was located at the back of the building with its window where one went to buy stamps. Mr. Arthur was the postmaster, appointed by President Herbert Hoover. Mrs. Rhema Arthur, Rua's wife, was an assistant. She also spent some of her time working behind the counter in the store.

My family's mail was delivered by a rural carrier. I envied the people in town who opened each day one of the boxes beside the window, each with numbers in gold lettering, and took their mail. Every day except Sundays a speeding express train took the outgoing mail in a canvas bag from a rod extending from a metal pole behind the post office and also left behind a bag of incoming mail.

During World War II the bags contained a great deal more mail than in previous years. Relatives of service men and women sent v-mail letters to the locals, who exchanged information with each other about their sons and husbands. The Arthurs often asked these relatives about the local soldiers and sailors serving the country.

For a period of time during the store's existence Mrs. Arthur cooked hamburgers before it was time to open the store. She wrapped them in paper and placed them in a pressure cooker, closing the lid tightly in order to keep the burgers warm until noontime when patrons purchased them to eat with Coca-cola or another soft drink. Once I remember being in the store during the lunch break from school. I was tantalized by the odor of the warm burgers and just happened to have a dime to purchase one of them. What a pleasant change from the cold sausage and biscuit which I usually ate for lunch.

On the counter was an unabridged dictionary and beside it a knife from a place setting of utensils. In order to determine which of two customers would treat the other to a soda, each took the knife and opened the dictionary. The customer who opened to a page with the lower digit on the right side of the page number was obligated to pay for the soda. If there was a tie, the customers opened the dictionary again. This form of gambling was accepted by the community even though a few years earlier another merchant was pressured to take a pool table out of his store.

One of the attractions for me once I reached the age of twelve was the lending library in the drug store. For a few pennies one could borrow a hard-cover book, usually fiction. I developed an interest in historical fiction, after having read books of that genre I rented from the store. A classmate once rented a copy of a salacious novel about one of the mistresses of Charles II. She made the mistake of taking the book to our English class. Miss Mitchell sent the girl to the store and commanded her to return the book.

If Mr. Arthur extended horizontally a red strip of metal attached to a pole in front of the store, a Greyhound bus would stop for passengers. Those buses headed east displayed the name of the exotic city Memphis above the driver's windshield. Those buses headed west displayed Dallas, a reference to the name of a city I was somewhat more familiar with because of radio programs originating from there and because many former neighbors had moved to Dallas.

While waiting for the bus, passengers would often sit in chairs with metal backs that were placed around small circular tables at the back of the store. As a child, a ride on a Greyhound appeared to be a glamorous experience. Once when I was seven my sister boarded a bus in front of the drug store. She was headed to West Texas. The driver let me climb the steps to board the bus . Once the driver had stowed my sister's luggage in the compartment, it was time for me to get off. When I was a teenager, I had my first opportunity to ride the Greyhound. After having bought tickets at the drug store, my brother, one of his classmates and I rode the short distance to Mt. Vernon for an afternoon football game.

Eventually the building that housed the two stores became an antique store, and then later was destroyed by fire. It will remain in my memory as a source of several pleasurable experiences.
Robert G. Cowser
November 9 , 2021

More Robert G. Cowser Columns
Saltillo, Texas

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