The old gas pumps in front are all out of use. With the big chains selling cheap gas in the nearby town they are no longer worthwhile. Despite the fact of having no gas, this place has a lot to offer. There’s hardware supplies, fishing bait, groceries, hunting stuff and various objects all over the place and there’s always a group of locals hanging out at the store ready for a conversation on almost any topic.
The owner, Betty, takes care of our drinking needs and serves us some barbecue of the day. We take a seat close to the wall next to the heater. An oversized fan of industrial proportions is hanging above our heads and reminds us about the unforgiving heat during summertime. On the day of our first visit, though, the temperature is low and the heater brings a welcoming warmth.
The interior may not meet up to your expectations of a standard honky-tonk, and maybe this isn’t exactly a place you would call a honky-tonk, but you can get yourself a beer, there’s a couple of tables and chairs scattered around the place and it smells of firewood, bbq and cigarette smoke. In my book it’s a honky-tonk alright, missing the jukebox though.
Betty’s son, Craig, drops in with some sausages he picked up in Elgin, “Go ahead boys and help yourself to some of Elgin’s claim to fame,” he says and disappears out the door. He’ll be back in a bit, Betty explains.
Craig runs his own business setting up grave stones and together with his brother Jimmy he helps Betty with the “Q” and to run this little family business. Betty seems a bit tired of it and admits that she might want to sell it. She tells me that she’s had it for 39 years and it’s hard making money from it, especially during the slower period of the year. Spring sees better business with people coming here to fish on the lake.
We’re told that where the lake is there used to be a community called Friendship but all that is at the bottom now. Everybody laughs and I can’t decide if they’re pulling my leg or not. It doesn’t really matter anyway, it’s all part of hanging out at the old country store. As we drink and listen to the locals tell their stories, the conversation changes to muscle cars. The guy leading the conversation seems to have had his share of old classics, racing, working and of course crashing a few. Today, he continues, with the price of gas, you’d have to be a millionaire to be able to use them as your everyday car. I guess this ain’t the typical hang out for millionaires.
The store part of the place is quite messy. The joint part is in the back and the beer cooler is just by the counter. After a few longnecks I feel at home and I accidentally help myself to the next beer. Betty laughs and adds it to my tab. Jimmy, who has now joined us, is laughing as well. He is almost the opposite of his brother Craig, tall and broad shouldered, with a calmness about him that really makes you feel at ease. Craig on the other hand is more energetic, running around fixing this and that and constantly talking to someone and anyone. This is Texas friendliness at it’s finest. And I appreciate it even more as Craig comes back and turns up the mood a couple of notches by putting on some music. Modern technology can come in handy sometimes. He hooks up some kind of modern player to a couple of old dusty speakers hanging on the wall and asks, “What y’all wanna hear?”
The town of Circleville was settled in 1853 and in its early days had a general store, a gristmill, a gin, a molasses press, tin and pewter shops, a blacksmith shop, a carding factory, a school, a church and from 1857 to 1911, a post office. The Kansas, Texas and Missouri Railroad ran through town in the 1880’s and several train wrecks occurred here because of an ill-designed curve near the San Gabriel River. Today you see no activity like that and it’s just a slumbering place moving at its own pace, but around the table in the back of the store it’s really picking up and I have trouble following the conversations. We’ve really worked up a sweat, the beer flows and spirits are high. At an old place like this that celebrated its 100:th birthday a couple of years back, time flies and we’re getting ready to hit the road.
I leave the store in a haze with my head full of stories, impressions and beer. Outside in the chilly night I hear wolves howling at the full Texas moon, maybe it’s coyotes or dogs. Does it matter? I’m happy with wolves, it fits my mind and adds to the impression of the place. I’m thankful for having our good friend and designated driver Chris with us this time as the three of us cram into his ’62 Willy’s pickup, and I have to ride bitch again. With no car stereo my imagination plays music in my head. The song Beer, Bait and Ammo with Kevin Fowler is haunting my mind. Luckily, the Circleville Store has nothing in common with the place Kevin describes in his Redneck anthem. This place ain’t no song, it’s real and it’s here for anyone to enjoy.