Stories of Xenia: Food and Commerce in my youth

05 Dec

Xenia is the county seat of Greene County, Ohio. Southwestern small town Ohio is, in many ways, like small town living anywhere, but some things about Xenia make it unique. Besides being the county seat Xenia was, at one time, an agricultural center. I remember the grain tower down on Main Street where trains used to pull up to load various farm crops straight from the granary.

We were all closer to our food then. I am not sure I ever consumed anything that had been frozen  except orange juice concentrate, and ice cream, of course. Besides being surrounded by farms which meant the beef and pork you ate were quite fresh, we had Gineven”s Poultry where you could go buy freshly killed chickens, turkeys, ducks, geese and the occasional pheasant. I do not think Gineven’s (my spelling may be wrong) sold meat of any other kind, at least my family did not  buy anything else from them.

I always wanted to go to Gineven’s with my dad because it was fascinating to see the fowl hanging there in various stages, from whole with feathers to plucked and beheaded. The floor of the place was slanted so that the blood from cleaning the fowl ran down to the center of the room and out a drain. The drain was over a creek, we were not so careful about pollution in those days, and a flood of chicken/duck/turkey/goose blood was probably not considered something dangerous to drop into the water supply.

I think you could actually go have your own poultry killed and prepared there–or I imagine they referred to it as being dressed. I seem to vaguely remember my father having  a few chickens in the backyard, which he probably took to Gineven’s to be dispatched and prepared for the frying pan. At least I never saw him kill a chicken but I am pretty sure we ate them.

All of the butchers at Gineven’s wore huge white aprons, which, by a few hours of time in the place were actually red and white from the blood of the merchandise. Because they used hoses to wash down the floor periodically the smell was actually better than the smell at James’ grocery when we had a chicken sale, but there was still definitely a lingering aroma of eau de poultry blood.

We bought different foods from different stores and places when I was a kid. If you wanted fish you went to the Five Points Market, so called because it was on an intersection of five streets. Here the main smell was of fish and my father—having been raised on the shores of Chesapeake Bay, reveled in their fresh black bass and occasional other fish hard to obtain in southern Ohio.

For apples you went to Orchard Lane out on Rte 235. The Lane family owned the place and sold all kinds of apples all year long and apple cider, freshly pressed, in the fall. Orchard Lane is on a hill with a good view of the surrounding countryside, so I always looked forward to a trip there with their bales of hay and pumpkins and jugs of cider. You could get a great panorama of the spectacle of fall and the turning of the trees from the parking lot of the barn they sold their goods out of. It would never have occurred to me as a kid that I would be buying groceries from a mega-corporation like a super Walmart, with nary a local person involved in the production of the item. In my childhood you did not have your own candlemaker, but you did have the others mentioned in the nursery rhyme, the butcher and the baker.

Smith’s Bakery was the place for baked goods and I have never had a chocolate chip cookie as good as Ruth’s chocolate chips. The transition from local businesses to corporations began even when I was 12 years old or so. But, I did not think it would go to the extreme that it finally did.

There were at least four stores in Xenia where you could buy furniture. Adair’s and Cherry’s were the most elite, followed by Daum’s. If you were looking for something on the relative cheap then Black’s Furniture was the place for you. I remember going to Adair’s with my mother and envisioning the days when I would be setting up my own household and would stroll the showroom picking out furniture for me and my family. Unlike today, where it seems you can buy mass produced furniture virtually anywhere ( Ikea anyone?) there was status in having furniture from Adair’s and it was not going to be seen in everyone else’s home.

Our goals and wishes were much simpler in those days. We did not have as many options to long for. Buying furniture was a serious proposition because you were going to keep it for at least twenty years unless you were filthy rich. As a matter of fact, if your furniture did not last twenty years there was some feeling that you must have bought cheap, inferior things to begin with. I do not know when we became a disposable society, but I do know that my mother has some furniture she bought before I was ten, which would make it more than fifty years old and it still looks great.

If you wanted jewelry you had several options as well, Rich’s Jewelry, Braun’s Jewelry, Hitchcock Jewelry and Tiffany’s Jewelry. My family mainly went to Tiffany’s until an unfortunate incident caused us to change to Hitchcock’s.  A friend of the family, who happened to be a very pale skinned black woman went to Tiffany’s to buy a gift for her sister. She liked a relatively expensive pair of pierced earrings, this in an era when most women did not have pierced ears, but both she and her sister did. She asked the clerk at Tiffany’s if she could try on the earrings to see how they looked on. The clerk told her that she could not, that they did not allow you to try on pierced earrings. Not being satisfied to leave it at that the clerk went on to add, in a conspiratorial whisper to what she thought was a fellow white female, “After all, you would not want to buy some earrings some colored girl had tried on.” Needless to say our friend left without buying anything. She did, however, report the incident fairly widely to the black community.

I am not jealous of all of the young couples setting up household these days. With the number of options of where to buy things and how to buy things and the selection of what to buy it would be very difficult to decide on your own style and your true desires.

It was a lot easier when we had THE stores to buy from and all you had to do was collect enough money to make your purchases and then brag to your friends that you had made it!


Posted by on December 5, 2010 in Xenia


2 responses to “Stories of Xenia: Food and Commerce in my youth

  1. Kevin

    December 5, 2010 at 11:49 pm

    So THAT is why I was scolded for buying an ID bracelet at Tiffany’s in Jr. Hi. Remember it was all the rage to buy your steady an ID bracelet with their name or”I Love You” on the outside and both your names and “anniversary date” on the inside. If I remember correctly, this was to be done before the first month anniversary. haha!

    • minerva5

      December 6, 2010 at 12:20 am

      Aww weren’t you romantic? In my day it was a “friendship ring” I still remember picking mine out with Wayne when I was 15 at Rich’s Jewelry store!I bought him one too, he still has his, mine was lost long ago!


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