I have fond memories of the time when my parents were the switchboard operators in Guss, Iowa, an unincorporated community. The mailing address there was actually Villisca. Just down the road was Hampell's store: They sold gasoline, chicken feed, and groceries. My parents had good credit there, and would sometimes send me down the road for flour or sugar or some other necessary item, telling me to have Edgar put it on the charge account. There was a time I had the desire for something or other that Hampell's sold and Mother said we couldn't afford it. I suggested we just charge it, and I got a lengthy explanation to make me understand that when a person charges something, they eventually have to pay for it. I imagine I was five or six years old at the time.
If Mother had hens that weren't laying any eggs, she would catch them, bind their lower legs together with twine, hand them to me by their feet, and send me to Hampell's, who would buy them and truck them on down the road. Any money Hampell paid for them went on our charge... it was usually only pocket change. Those hens would squawk pitifully all the way as I carried them upside-down to their final destiny.
Hampell's was really the center of the community, a wonderful gathering place. There were huge stacks of livestock feed just inside the door, and I recall scaling to the top of the pile and playing "Old Maid" with some little boy I knew from school. Mother and Daddy were always good for an ice-cream-cone if I asked nicely. On the Fourth of July, everyone in the surrounding area would bring whatever fireworks they'd bought and we could all enjoy them together. It usually made for a nice show. Great memories!
When you walked inside the store, you smelled Edgar Hampell's cigar smoke. He had a cigar in his mouth most of the time, although it wasn't usually lit. He lived right next door to the store, and his wife kept the house looking like a showplace. She had Good Housekeeping magazines neatly stacked underneath an end table, and I'm sure that's where she got her decorating ideas; she had a lovely yard and garden, too, with sweet peas growing on the fence on either side of the gate. I recall eating an evening meal with them once; it's the first time I ever heard of "Harvard beets", which I've loved ever since. Back when Canasta was the popular card game, neighbors would take turns gathering at one anothers' homes for card parties; Hampells' were one of the participants in these parties, and they often hosted the events.
And when we passed through in 2011, the store was barely recognizable.
Although Edgar's old house was not only still standing at this time, but occupied as well, it had deteriorated even further. It was extremely hot weather at the time, and the occupants were sitting outside trying to keep cool. One of them, a man, approached us, and I told him we were just going down memory lane and that I had lived in Guss as a child.
I'm not sure, but I think I heard banjo music in the background, and we left pretty quickly.