Satterthwaite brothers tell their Shafter stories

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By Panzi Blackwell

The saga of Shafter Store continues. It served as the hub of the small rural community and supported two large, growing families (the Etchesons and Satterthwaites) during the Great Depression years and later, when there were many shortages during World War II.
The store supplied customers with virtually every need it was possible to fill for everyday living, including providing them with egg and chicken money.
Don Etcheson recently shared his memories of the years when his parents owned and operated the store, from the 1920s until they sold it in 1945 to Donald Satterthwaite Sr.
Join the Satterthwaite brothers, Donald Jr., Harry and John, as they share their memories, stories, a few escapades  and good-natured brotherly kibitzing of their childhood in Shafter when their parents, Donald and Anetta Satterthwaite, owned and operated the Shafter Store from 1945 until its demise in the 1960s.  
The  Memories
The Satterthwaites bought the Shafter Store in 1945 and reared their family of eight children in the Shafter Store, which seemed to be a forerunner of the large stores of today.   
Donald Jr., “Don,” was born in January 1937. Some of his early memories of the store coincide with his memories of World War II.
“I was between the second and third grades. I went to third through the eighth grade at Peake School and then to Vandalia for high school,” Don said.
“I remember we had a shortage of a lot of things we needed because of the war. It was between V-E Day and V-J Day when we moved out there,” he said.
“We couldn’t get toilet paper. People would come in and ask Mom for toilet paper and Mom would tell them, ‘We can’t get it, but some people are buying these Kleenex,” he said.
“You had to have those coupons to buy sugar, meat, tires and gasoline. We kids didn’t always think dad was real smart, but he was thinking ahead. We had a big family and he raised them all wholesale,” he said, laughing.
“We got our groceries out of the store, our clothes, our shoes. Just about everything we needed, he got through the store.”   
“We had a family across road from us, the Alsburys. They had more kids than we did, and we had eight. So with the two families, we had 10 or 20 population anyway,” he said.
Brother Harry added, “The population was 23. We used to go out and scratch it on the (state) sign out there, ‘Population 23.’”
There were eight of us kids, mom and dad, and my grandmother on my mother’s side, so that made 11 on our side of the road.  I think we made it to 25, because the Alsburys had 12 kids eventually,” John said.
However, another brother pointed out that some of the older ones were out and gone when new ones came along.
John, the youngest of the three, said, “I was born right there in that house in Shafter. Most kids my age were born in hospitals. I’m the only one I know of (my age) who wasn’t born in a hospital,” John said.
“I was born in November of 1946, and the story is that Mom got out and pushed a car out of a snow bank, and I came two weeks early. I didn’t like that, and that’s the last time I’ve been early for anything.
“But it was a good childhood out there,” John said. “We had a few customers that I can remember.
“They would bring their horse and wagon up and do their grocery shopping, Their name was Wangrove, and they had two white horses. I didn’t know any better and I used to feed horseweed to their horses. Margaret, the sister just younger than me, and I used pull horseweed and take it over to those horses.
“I can remember Hugh and Verneil Daily. They had a wooden egg crate, and we would buy their eggs, and they would buy groceries and take them home in their egg crate,” John said.
“I read in the paper that Don Etcheson talked about candling eggs. Well, I guess we bought that candler as part of the store, because I can remember candling eggs,” John said.
John also provided stories involving his older brothers.
“We got meat in 5-pound cans with a key, and you turned the top off of them, like a coffee can.
“They (brothers) used to have water fights with those cans when Cousin Bill Clark came out from Colorado,” John said.  
“I can remember one time when they came along and spread out those the big high-line poles along (Ill.) Route 185 and was setting that new powerline there.
“These two (Don and Harry) and one of the neighbor kids and Bill Clark, rolled that big pole down into the road ditch and floated it on down the ditch,” John said.
“Shafter was a low place, and every time it rained hard, it would get covered with water,” he said.
“A lot of times, when the water receded, we would have to clean out the store and get the silt out. It was an old wooden floor that Dad kept oiled to preserve it,” he said.
“We would have to clean up around the nail kegs and things that were on the north side of the store where it was the lowest.
“I remember when they went to set them, they had to take their winch truck and go drag that pole back up at least a quarter of a mile,” John said.
 “We had everything out there, John said. “It was just like Don Etcheson said. We sold bulk cookies, I remember the Miller-Parrot Cookies.
“The old display cases, one was three (feet) tall and two wide, and the other was three tall and three wide. They had glass doors that when you took the lid off the cookie boxes and folded the flaps back on the box itself, that would hold the glass door on the box,” he said.
“We had a scale right above them and kept paper sacks there. The customer could pick out what they wanted and put in the sack a pound or a pound and a half,” John said.
The brotherly kibitzing began as Harry began to share his memories, John commented,
“I’ll fill in after Harry is through. My memory is better than either one of these guys. I joke with them all time that if it for me, they wouldn’t have any childhood memories.”
That brought another brotherly comment – æHe remembers a lot that wasn’t so, though.”
Harry said,  “I was 6 in August and we moved out there in August of 1945,” Harry said. “I went Peake School in the first grade down there. Swetlands moved it back from the road and turned it around.
“What I remember, somewhat, about Shafter General Merchandise, was that we had everything, like the saying “from scoop to nuts.”
“We were the Walmart of that era. We had hardware, nails, bolts, screws … you name it, we had it.  We had horse collars, Aladdin lamps. We even had carbide that miners used to use on their caps, and fishermen and coon-hunters would use it,” he said.
“We had all kinds of medications, Dr. Scoles, LaGears and Hadacol, that was a big craze for a while. We had cases and cases of Hadacol. A lot of that went to waste. That was the cure-all for a while. We had Wolverine shoes, boots and five-buckle galoshes,” Harry said.
“The old gasoline pump that you had to pump up, that was out ethyl pump; you had to pump the gas (manually) up into a glass bulb.
“There was a handle on it that you pumped back and forth and it measured. You would get it up there, 1 galllon, 2 gallon, 3 gallon, then it siphoned down once you got it (gas) up there, how ever many gallon you wanted. Then just dropped the hose down in the tank,” Harry said.
“Another thing that was kind of unique about our store was that Dad kept his job with the Illinois Public Aid Commission, so my mother essentially ran the store. Her mother, (Nell (Edwards) Gephart, Harry’s grandmother), who was widowed, moved out there at the same time we did.
“There was a little house behind the bigger house, and her dad, George Bertram Edwards, also moved out there,” Harry said.
“My grandmother essentially ran the household, cooked the meals, and was a mother to us kids somewhat, including the switchings , if we needed it, while mother worked in the store.
“Then, when Dad came home, from work, he would take over the store, and Mom would go over and help grandmother  with the evening meal,” he said.
“Of course, evenings were when Dad got all of us kids over there, too, to help in the store, stock shelves, clean up, whatever needed to be done. That went on for years, until my mother died in December 1969,” Harry said.
“The store almost shut down at the time. My grandmother had died in 1968. So the store was just open on evenings and weekends for several years, then eventually the doors were just closed and it just sat there.”
(A bit more local history – George Bertram Edwards was also the father to the late Dell Edwards, who owned the Day & Nite Market in Vandalia. Dell was a brother to Nell and the father of Ralston Edwards, who owned and operated the store for many years.)      
Harry said, “It was a good business for several years, but as people got more mobile, they got automobiles and started going to town to Kroger and Tri-City, the big stores. That’s kind of what I remember.
“There were a lot of fun gatherings there, especially in the winter  months, when the farmers were kind of twiddling their thumbs. The store was a gathering spot, to swap tales. We had a big stove in the store, like you would find in a one-room schoolhouse. It had a jacket around it. We would gather around it to swap tales and things,” Harry said.
Although the store carried many children’s favorites, such as nickel candy bars, sodas, cookies and ice cream, the children’s mother was firm about their healthy heating habits.
They were not allowed any caffeine drinks in the summer.; they could have only milk or water, no iced tea. When allowed to drink a soda, it could only be an orange or a  fruit drink, never Coca-Cola or Pepsi.  
Checker Games, Celebrities & Christmas Candies
“Of course, a lot of checker games and chess were played over the back counter of the store,” Harry said.
“They had a state champion checker player by the name of Jim Lester. My dad loved to play checkers. He played down at the barbershop a lot, and he was a decent checker player, but he wasn’t great.
“He challenged Jim and Jim would come out. Dad would set up the checker  board at the back of the store, and Jim would walk up to the front of the store. My dad would move and tell him what square he moved to and Jim would study a while, then say, ‘Move my man to such and such square, and he would just beat my dad hands down and never look at the board,” Harry said.
“He was state champion for several years running. He could memorize that whole board and know his moves, keep count of yours, and just go off and do his own thing.”
Jim Lester was the brother of Martin Lester, and he also held the state championship a time or two. Jim was the uncle of the late John Lester, Martin’s son.
“There were a lot of tales swapped in that store and a lot of laughs,” Harry said.
Christmas Candy Event
   “One of the big events I remember as a kid was always a thrill for us. Around Christmas time, we would get the bulk candies in, “ Harry said.
“We had a glass display counter, and we would partition it off with cardboard. We would have hard rock candy, haystacks, coconut bon-bons, pekoe flake, peanut brittle, orange slices, stars … just about like the 5 and 10 stores up town.
“That was always a big event when we got ready to break the Christmas candies out.  Everyone gathered around and we would have a big time over that, and we always got to sample it,”  Harry said.
John recalled, “We had malted milk balls in bulk and not only did you have to partition off the sides, but we had to put something in the end. My dad was holding them back while Mom cut a piece of cardboard to tape to the end. He always said, ‘Nett, hurry up, these things are coming out faster than I can eat them,’ he would say.”
John remembered the candy salesman, Max Quail.
“The Christmas candy display that he would bring out there he would open up a case like a multi-tiered tackle box. He had plastic replicas of the candy and it looked good enough to eat. He would set that on the counter and open about four trays.”
Don also remembered the Christmas candy.
“At Christmas time, we always bagged up the candy in a little paper sacks for all the kids at school.
I guess the PTA bought the candy for them and for the local churches,” he said.
Next week, Part II –  Gunpowder, vinegar barrels,  the brothers & the end of an era.