I find myself spending more and more time bemoaning the demise of “Southern Culture” as I knew it as a child and young adult. I long for the days when gas was 19 cents a gallon, the movie cost 10 cents and you could buy a cheeseburger for 35 cents. Cokes were a nickel and no one drank Pepsi. High School football was the dream of every able bodied boy and the St. Louis Cardinals were Dixie’s team. I have had to face the reality that this world is long gone, and nowhere is that more apparent than during a trip to Wal-Mart.
When I was a boy every ethnic and socio-economic group in the Mississippi Delta had its own shopping venue. The poor black share croppers did business with the plantation store or the traveling merchants who sold on credit and came by regularly. The black folks that lived in town shopped at the several Chinese owned stores in the black section of each small town. The white farm workers and small farmers could be found at one of the General Stores that dotted the countryside, and on Saturday’s they came to town to go to the Woolworth’s or Western Auto.
Those of us who lived in town bought our groceries from Piggly Wiggly or Jitney Jungle, our clothes at Kamien’s or Ike Baker’s and our tools at Delta Hardware. If you needed something really nice you drove to Memphis and shopped at Goldsmith’s, Lowenstein’s or Gus Mayer’s. The world was an orderly and predictable place.
Sam Walton’s mega-stores have completely changed our buying patterns. Now everyone shops at Wal-Mart, even those of us who deny doing so. Personally, I would rather get a root-canal than go to Wal-Mart, but I find myself there at least three times a week. At Wal-Mart there is no demarcation of class or ethnic origins. It is truly a modern day combination of Ellis Island and the Tower of Babel.
The one saving virtue of a trip to Wal-Mart is that it is a character building experience. If you have any illusion that you might be smarter, more important or better bred that the general population, a trip to Wal-Mart will quickly dispel the notion. This ain’t an altogether bad thing. There has never been a location or institution in the south that treated everyone equally on the level of Wal-Mart. Treated them poorly, but equally. Wal-Mart is nature’s way of evening the playing field. – Tom Lawrence