Click here for audio: Grass Range Mercantile
So if it were me reading this post, I would already have a visual in mind merely from the sound of the title. But for those of you who don’t have anything come to mind when you hear the word “mercantile” I will fill you in.
A sunny demeanered Saturday morning found me driving to Grass Range. A tiny little community that consists of mostly a truck stop called “Little Montana”, The Wrangler Bar, a school, and the Grass Range Mercantile. Grass Range is equal distance from our ranch the opposite direction of where we usually do our business, church, entertainment, groceries etc. Well I have found myself more and more interested lately in going to Grass Range to pick up my ‘Bountiful Basket’ every other week. At first, I started going to Grass Range because it was less crowded than my other options. But I continue to go there for reasons other than fighting off the crowds and battling it out for a parking place.
I arrived a few minutes early and got my baby girl out of the car, bouncing her infant carrier on my hip, hooked in the crook of my elbow, holding my plastic bags in my other hand to bring my fruits and veggies home in. Before I even made it to the swinging red wooden door of the mercantile I found it being opened for me. I looked up to see our organ player from church, Cathie. With a big smile she said, “I always see you either here or at church!” I laughed and replied, “Both good places to be I suppose!” We both entered the mercantile only to be greeted by more smiles and warm countenances.
A couple of the gals volunteering that morning called me by my first name even though I didn’t know theirs. And rather than being shocked or offended, it warmed my heart to feel familiar to them. This was only my second of third time at the Mercantile. Three women and an adorable little blue-eyed girl helped me gather my produce, pack it up, haul it out to my car, and clean up my basket. Meanwhile, making googley eyes at a smiley baby girl in her carrier, a conversation arose between the women about one of the items in the baskets this week.
“What is this?!” Asked Cathie, the organist from church, holding up an odd leafy green stalk.
“Bok Choy?” Someone answered sheepishly.
“Never heard of it!” Said Cathie laughing.”No idea what to do with it!”
“I think it’s kind of like a cabbage? Used in Asian food?”
I looked up upon recognizing the name. I had used ‘baby bok choy’ in a poem I wrote for my College Poetry Workshop when I was a sophomore. The poem in which I compared myself to a pomegranate. Wierd…I know.
“My sister cooks that I think? Or has eaten it? I dunno,” I’m not sure why I am talking at this point realizing my input is irrelevant and unhelpful. “She lived in Japan. For her mission.” I know this isn’t clearing up the Bok Choy mystery but my mouth just keeps moving. I know Cathie knows what I am talking about by “mission” but I doubt anyone else is really following. Everyone is just smiling their friendly, genuine, happy-Saturday-morning-at-the-Mercantile smiles.
“Here…take mine!” Cathie says. Pushing her bok choy into my bag.
“Oh! I don’t know what to do with it!” Laughing nervously, my eyes dart around to my pile of veggies. “Do you want my celery? I despise celery.”
“No. Just take it. I can’t eat all that myself anyway.” Cathie insists I take her bok choy so I graciously accept, remembering City Mouse’s post on “awkward social circumstances” I accept her offering, wondering in my mind how I can repay her act of graciousness. But the more I offer the more she declines. Not because what I’m offering isn’t good enough, or that she expects more, or even anything in return for that matter. She’s just being kind. And giving. She proceeds to give me all of her green bell peppers, radishes, celery (even though I told her I despise it. I take it because I know it makes her feel good) and even gave me her lemons. I cannot believe this woman just gave me over half of her Bountiful Basket!
I thank her again and again as she smiles and heads out the door saying, “See you at church!” And I walk back into the store full of smiley, friendly, cheerful, neighborly people.
I wander around the store looking for something to eat. It was 10:00 in the morning and I hadn’t eaten breakfast and was continuing on to Billings, and hour and a half drive. I snagged a sack of trail mix off one shelf, then circled my way to look for a drink. Finding myself in the hardware aisle (mercantile remember…it’s like a cure-all for your hometown needs.) There are two skinny little ranch boys with huge grins on their faces, looking about 8 and 10 years old. The older one, buzzed dark hair, big metal rimmed glasses, and freckles to boot, holds up a gallon of vanilla ice cream and smiles.
“I asked my mom but she said I cain’t get the 5 gallon bucket!”
“Better than nothing!” I say. Imagining how that ice cream will probably be gone by the time the two walk home. Which isnt far in Grass Range. Which, for the same reason, is probably the mother’s reasoning for shutting down the 5 gallon vanilla ice cream request. Among all other reasons of course.
I find my drink and some Cracked Pepper Spits for the drive, then I step up to wait in line at the little one-teller counter. Three men in wool caps, Carhartt and camo are in line with hardware supplies. I set baby girl in her carrier down on the floor as my arm is much to weak to lug around a 17 lb 7 month old for extended periods of time. The man up to bat at the counter says, “Ah. Let this gal go. We ain’t in no hurry.” Referring to himself and the two men behind him, who appear to be in a different party. I thank him, graciously, and step up to the cutest, round-faced old gentleman at the cash register. He rings up my soda, then looks back and forth from the trail mix to the sunflower seeds. There was no price tag. I panic, run back to the spot where I got them….no price there either. I’m sweating, feeling awkward about the nice man that let me cut him and half the store in line, now I’m holding up the line with a complicated order. The old man just shrugs and says, “I will just ring it up the same as these seeds.”
I know darn well that doesn’t equal out. Especially when my total is only 3.47 and that included at can of pop, a large bag of seeds and a large bag of mixed nuts and dried berry trail mix! But I have learned in my short 20 minute visit to Grass Range Mercantile that these folks are genuinely happy to be alive today. Happy to serve. Happy to share their veggies, share their good news about ice cream and share their place in line with me. Me: geek-chic,big-haired, makeup-junky ranch wife who dresses like she just walked out of Urban Outfitters, not off the cattle guard!
That drive to Billings was so pleasant having had my morning jump started by such pleasant folks. It just made me so happy to live where I live. I found beauty in such an unassuming place. And as I drove the sun spilled over winter-brown rolling hills. Which may sound less worthy than green fields or white beaches but I loved seeing the freckles of sage brush over the shoulders of hillsides that later jet rocks out that spike up like stegosaurus fossils. I just love how raw and unadulterated it is out here. How people aren’t trying to be anyone they aren’t and are unashamed to make others feel good. I hope I can remember that and treat others with the same regaurd. Maybe a pay-it-forward is all I owe Cathie, a widowed, lonely woman who found ‘peace of heart’ in sharing her vegetables with someone since she has no one to share them with at home. Today I told her at church she would have to come have dinner and reap the rewards of her bountiful sharing nature!
Something I learned long ago from a dear family member, “Being charitable includes allowing others to be charitable.” And the best example of that is Christ. If you have stories of charity, or recipes for bok choy please feel free to comment!