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Time in paradise includes nostalgic side trip

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A wood cabinet with triangular drawers holds assorted nuts and bolts at the store.
A wood cabinet with triangular drawers holds assorted nuts and bolts at the store. SUBMITTED PHOTO

Welcome to the Old General Store in Cataract, in northern Owen County. The store and all its contents are for sale.
Welcome to the Old General Store in Cataract, in northern Owen County. The store and all its contents are for sale. SUBMITTED PHOTO

There have been great societies that did not use the wheel, but there have been no societies that did not tell stories.

—Ursula K. LeGuin

I spent last weekend with a group of writers in paradise.

Some people like to call it the Retreat Campus in Quincy. As paradises go, there was much to behold — Cataract Falls was a few minutes drive, as was the oldest continuously running general store in Indiana, Cataract Old General Store.

While there, we wrote our impressions:

Pati Page of Bargersville wrote:

Daunting museum hallways are often lined with priceless artifacts, marble sculptures and mosaic encrusted archways. Many pass through; few remain long enough to examine the treasures entombed behind glass walls.

However, another museum sits on a quiet country road, nestled somewhere between yesterday and tomorrow. The old Cataract General Store began its journey in 1860. Where the old meets the new, it is a living museum where the past whispers into the ear of the future, calling us to press on but not forget.

When entering, prepare to be embraced by creaky wooden floors, an inviting mustiness, a collage of artifacts hung and stacked, under, over and in between.

Behind several rows of wooden shelves, in the center of the store, sits an old potbelly stove and a rocking chair tucked unexpectedly amid the towering stacks of antiques. Imagine those who have gathered on cool crisp mornings to warm their hearts and hands while sharing their hopes, dreams, disappointments and heartaches.

Elsewhere in the store, remnants of the past are displayed under glass cases. An article celebrating Everrett Little who “found the granddaddy of mushrooms growing under an elm tree,” wire spectacles, photos and postcards that quietly remind us of people who once occupied this place.

Could anyone not wonder who held the tools that bare the marks of wearisome toil, or pushed the brown wicker stroller that cradled future’s hope?

In our fast-paced culture that pushes us into the unknown, there is an odd peace that comes from listening to those who have gone before. Their voices are no longer heard except in the things they have left behind. Their message that times change but the human heart does not reminds us that lasting treasure is in a warm smile, good conversation and the familiarity of friends and family.

Our youngest retreat writer, 15-year-old sophomore Hannah Rollett, is an aspiring novelist: “The Cataract General Store was such a quaint, charming little store. I loved all of the antiques and the old-fashioned feeling. The pickle barrel was one of my favorite pieces, along with the old Coca Cola machine.

“I felt as if I were traveling back to the early 1900s to shop for groceries. Also, instead of smelling like processed foods and freshly cut meat, as most modern stores do, this store gave off the scent of freshly cut wood, similar to forest pine. I think there should definitely be more stores like this one.”

Mary Minix wrote that walking into the Cataract General Store stirred memories of her first trip out of Brooklyn, N.Y. Titled “Leaving Brooklyn,” Minix shared:

The first time I left the boundaries of Brooklyn, I had just turned 14 and was a freshman in high school. … For the first time in my life I saw the city disappear behind me, while dense forests, open fields, and farmlands stretched out into infinity before me.

Is this really what the world looked like outside of Brooklyn? Was the city really so small? I did not know that so much of New York was not high-rise apartment buildings, cement playgrounds, subway stations and traffic. All this time, all this nature was shoved up against the city without my knowledge.

Cars and people scurrying about were so quickly replaced by cows and horses grazing in lush pastures. While our trees in Brooklyn changed from green to brown in the fall, the leaves here burst with color: yellows and oranges and reds. Seeing the Catskill Mountains for the first time took my breath away.

… All of the commerce represented in the entire town would comprise one corner of our neighborhood in Brooklyn — I thought of Andy Griffith’s Mayberry.

Joyce Long of White River Township wrote:

A one-stop shop no bigger than a large living room, Cataract’s General Store ushers me back to a simpler time. Here 50 cents buys a dill pickle floating in the waist-high, vinegar-laden wooden barrel. Walnuts and horseshoes surround brooms proud of their 100 percent corn fibers.

A cigar box collection, featuring King Edward Imperial, Roi-tan and Dutch Masters, hovers over the sturdy broom stand. Lamp wicks rest next to Clay City pottery. Nearby are the Ball canning jars. Metal whistles dangle next to real corncob pipes.

Owned by the Snyders since 1966, this store is now for sale and within it, a menagerie of memories.

My favorite items in the store were the dark oak antique dentistry cabinet with 39 pull-out drawers with replacement teeth for dentures and the wooden 5-foot-tall cabinet with tongue and groove triangular drawers that held nuts and bolts.

Owner Karen Snyder, whose husband died in 2007, shared she will miss seeing the people and the everyday routine of running the 30-foot by 40-foot store with its 14-foot ceiling. “It has been a labor of love.”

Upon leaving we thanked her, and like family, she invited us back for the bean dinner on Oct. 6-7, “which helps support the local fire department.”

Ham and beans — sounds like a good reason to head back to paradise.

Janet Hommel Mangas, the third of seven children, grew up on the east side of Greenwood. The Center Grove area resident and her husband are the parents of three daughters.

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