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New York Folklore Quarterly, Vol. XVI, No. 2, Summer 1960

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NEW YORK FOLKLORE QUARTERLY
Vol. XVI, No. 2, Summer, 1960

DRYGOODS AND CRACKER BARREL
Dorothy G. Wayman

CATS earned their keep in the old “general store” of the nineteenth century in New England and western New York State.

When I recall those structures as I knew them in childhood, it is the cats that I see in the foreground: cats snoozing in a patch of sunlight on the splintery board floor; a cat in a box in a corner, bedded on an old potato sack, serially catlicking a litter of tiny kittens; tortoiseshell cats, ginger cats, barred yellow-and-white cats, grey Manx cats with stubby tails; a huge black tomcat, with white shirtfront and six toes on his front paws.

The cats, a necessity to the store-keeper, kept the premises free from mice, rats, and squirrels which were ever striving to gnaw and nibble at the goods piled around. The cats were never fed. They hunted for their supper, but they were petted in reward for their prowess.

In my memory, the general store at a cross-roads or in a village, was built upon a little rise or knoll, so that the front door was reached by a flight of four or five steps, leading to a porch or platform across the front of the building.

The method in this site allowed easy excavation of a cellar which served as warehouse and cold-room storage. Usually a driveway led, on either side, from the road on which the store faced, to this back unloading place, and, lined with a hitching rail or posts, served as a parking place for customers’ teams.

In pleasant weather the front porch would be populated with men, sitting in splintbottomed chairs or on empty boxes while they read their mail, exchanged news and comment....




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