Graham’s Feed and Seed
1950’s – 1970’s
by: Russ Lancaster
I am sure Graham’s Feed and Seed was around both before the 1950’s and well after the 1970’s. My memory of this place is of the period listed above. I am sure the store is around no longer though I have been told that Mr. Graham is still alive.
Graham’s feed and seed was located near Atkinson’s Pool Room on Main Street. I think it may have been between the pool room and a beauty parlor.
It was easily recognizable from the sidewalk. It boasted the fact it was a “Purina” store. It had two plate glass show windows and Mr. Graham used them very well to attract customers.
Mr. Graham always looked the same to me. I aged but he seemed to be locked in a time warp of some kind or another. He was of average height and build and would have easily blended into any crowd. He was soft-spoken. He would engage you with conversation and seemed to know something about everything. My memory of him always included him wearing a long sleeved plaid shirt.
Entering the store you would have to adjust your eyes to the lighting. It always seemed just a little darker in there than it needed be. The floor was always clean, the items for sale always neatly stacked or shelved. You would be greeted with a smell that was neither pleasant nor unpleasant but definitely distinct and different. It was the smell of sawdust, feed and even a few animal scents mixed in like baby chicks or rabbits.
There was a back door to a dirt road between the line of businesses there on Main Street and the railroad tracks beyond. This was evidently for delivery of big items such as those fifty pound bags of feed and seed.
It was a place where parents went for gardening tools as well as feed and seed. It was a place kids liked to visit because of the chicks and rabbits. He even sold certain veterinarian medicines such as rabies vaccine for dogs.
During Easter, Mr. Graham would often dye some of those baby chicks of his different colors to sell to any of Hamlet’s kids who “needed” an Easter chick. Most of them didn’t last too long. They would either die because those who bought them didn’t know how to care for them or they would be given away to a farmer if they lived long enough to shed those colored feathers for real ones. I guess most of the latter ones later ended up on someone’s supper table.
I know of one such chick that grew into a mean rooster and created havoc with my bothers and sister. It was in 1960 while I was away at Syracuse University so I can only relate this story as it was told to me.
My mom and dad had bought my youngest brother one of those cute little colored chicks at Easter time. Within a few months he had grown into a big, mean rooster. He had no tolerance from my siblings, especially my sister, Fran. He thought he owned the back yard and woods beyond at my family’s house out on the end of Circlewood Drive. (That house no longer exists, having been replaced by the brand new branch of the Hamlet Hospital)
Fran became terrified of that old rooster. She kept a broom handy by the back door to fight the rooster off whenever she left the house. He would attack her on sight. One day he really got the best of her and ruined a suede jacket I had left behind.
It was cool and Fran had donned my old suede jacket (a status symbol of the late 50’s). She forgot her broom as she went out the back door to go to her car. The rooster hit her from behind, high on her back and went a little crazy. He knocked her to the ground and proceeded to tear my old suede jacket to shreds. Fran swears to this day he would have done her some serious damage had she not had my jacket on to protect her. Not long after that incident, the old rooster was given to our “maid” and I understand he made a tasty meal.
In the 1960’s as I found myself with three children of my own, I would take them down to Graham’s feed and seed to experience the sights, smells and sounds I had first sensed as a child. They too were spellbound by the place. We would go in and share a pack of “Nabs” and drink a Dr. Pepper much as I had done when my Dad had taken me there years before. They would marvel at the rabbits and chicks and always beg for one. I did eventually buy them rabbits from time to time and we took great care of them.
When we found out that Mr. Graham sold the rabies vaccine, we would go there and buy the medicine and needles necessary to vaccinate our dogs. It was cheaper than having the Vet do it and just as legal. Of course, Helga had to give the shots; I had no stomach for it.
In the 1970’s during a heavy February snowfall, Helga and I went down to Graham’s Feed and Seed to buy some bird seed. It was a family tradition to take care of wild birds during snowfalls. This particular snow was deep and heavy. It reached all the way to the top of our picnic table out back of our house on James Avenue. We opened the seed and I trudged through the deep snow to sprinkle seeds on top of the snow covered table. The birds appreciated it and we had a great show to watch from the bedroom and kitchen windows.
Long after the snow had melted, we continued to feed the birds. We took pine cones and spread peanut butter inside and hung them from tree limbs. Woodpeckers seemed to especially like this treat and we even began to recognize some of the same birds coming back day after day. It was easy to recognize the “special” birds. There was something about each of them that left no mistake that it was the same bird that had been there the day before and even before that. Things like a one legged woodpecker. That was an easy thing to spot.
As Spring approached, Helga woke me one morning and said she was seeing giant canaries in the yard. I looked to see what she was talking about. At first, I thought she was right. There were big birds with yellow and gray markings but they were loud and made a noise like no canary I had ever heard make before. I got out the encyclopedia and found that these were Grossbeaks and that their favorite food was sunflower seeds. They were picking those out of the regular bird seed we put out for the birds.
I went down to Mr. Graham’s store and told him about them. He knew about them and advised me that if I fed them they would generally hang around forever. I bought 50 pounds of sunflower seeds and from that day until the day we moved from James Avenue we had those beautiful grossbeaks to watch each day.
We learned about pecking order and what it really meant by watching as the birds knew somehow who was boss and in what order they were allowed to eat. The grossbeaks gathered in huge numbers in the tall trees out back and took turns coming down for their treats. They were afraid of no other birds. The blue jays were second in the pecking order, then woodpeckers and finally the smaller wrens and such.
We learned a lot about birds and other animals from Mr. Graham. We spent many Saturday mornings in his store talking about such things. We bought our garden and lawn tools from him and stayed a little longer in his store than most talking about whatever the latest news of the day was and such. He was a friendly man to my family and me.
I guess not many folks have a tale to tell of something as simple as a feed and seed store. I am a little surprised that I am. But again, Mr. Graham is just another of Hamlet’s many fine citizens that helped shape my life in whatever little influence they had upon me and without having known him and that store, my life would be a little less full than it is.
So, I write this story as a way of saying thanks to Mr. Graham. Thanks for helping me educate myself and my children in areas we knew nothing about. Thanks for the conversations we had over a cold Dr. Pepper from time to time. Thanks for telling us about the birds (if not the bees). Thanks for being a friend. And most of all, thanks for allowing me to say one more time, that because of folks like you… I remember Hamlet
This section is to honor the works of Russ Lancaster who started the “I Remember Hamlet” web site years ago. Without his pioneering the web at that time we might not have gathered all these memories of our Hamlet, NC. We thank you Russ for what you started in 1996, may you Rest in Peace. Russ was kind enough to let me download his web site before he took it down. Thank you Russ.
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