Here, Gene Autry is singing ‘Here Comes Santa Claus’


WEST POINT — The dateline is misleading. West Point is about seven or eight miles from The Crossroads Store, an antiques enclave that pretty much straddles the Harris and Troup County lines.

A flyer notes that “The old rock store at Jones Crossroads has been at the center of rural commerce in this area since 1903.” It is located at the intersection of Ga. highways 18 and 219. I came this way taking a shortcut from I-185, near Pine Mountain, to LaGrange. When I spied two oldtimers sitting in the afternoon sun on the front porch of the old store, I knew I had to take a closer look.

When I went inside, I began a conversation with the proprietor by extending a hand and introducing myself. “Well, who are you and what does that have to do with the price of eggs?” he said without hesitation or welcome. He might as well have said, “I ain’t gonna tell you my name until I find out whether you are meddling or not.”

I knew that I had not only found an interesting place to browse, but that I would also be entertained while on the premises. As I began to take notes, the man half-smiled and said, “I’m Ralph Skinner,” and then spelled it slowly like I might be unfamiliar with such Southern names or hard of hearing.

Before long, we were off and running — me taking notes and him discoursing cynically and deliberately. Sometimes he volunteered information (“Today, I been so busy I have not had time to eat my lunch. Yesterday I didn’t do nothing.”). More often than not, he had short answers — though he was never impolite. I was charmed by his cynical sense of humor.

His place is heated by an old fireplace with kindling wood that lies amid the small logs awaiting use. “Do you have air conditioning in the summer?” I asked. “Yeah,” he replied, grinning. “Open the doors.”

After he warmed up to the presence of a curious visitor, he produced framed news stories about his place and its history.

In its heyday, this crossroads was home to a cotton gin, horse racetrack, tavern, blacksmith shop, ice house, and a U.S. Post office, which was operated from the back of the store. Within a little more than a stone’s throw, there is Union Baptist church, which was established in 1838.

Since 1994, Ralph Skinner has been selling antiques, ranging from “extremely primitive to Victorian to art deco and everything in between,” one old newspaper proclaimed.

It remains a gathering place for locals who want to come by and socialize with Ralph. You may see big rigged trucks coming and going and an abundance of pickup trucks rolling through, plus a Lexus or two. The traffic often reminds you of the busiest intersection in town. Then there is a lull, offering peace and quiet to complement the surrounding pastureland and hay fields.

Everybody who comes by waves and speaks. “That’s the way of life in the country,” Ralph notes approvingly.

For sale inside there is china, chests, chairs, pots, scythes, ice tongs, a cradle, an oxen yoke, a spinning wheel, an assortment of dolls, and post-hole diggers. Gene Autry is singing, “Here comes Santa Claus,” on the radio, two weeks before Thanksgiving.

On the porch there is firewood; a couple of weathered church pews, one containing rusting pots for sale; and an old newspaper rack containing the Atlanta Constitution dated Feb. 25, 1954, with Ralph McGill’s column on the left side of the front page. Who would have thought this crossroads store would survive for over a century while the Constitution has struggled to stay afloat?

As I drove away, I was grateful that Ralph Skinner gave me the time of day. Most of all I am thankful that in this ever-changing, high-tech world, there are rural settings where yesteryear lives on.

[For 36 years the sideline radio reporter for the Georgia Bulldogs, Loran Smith now covers a bigger sideline of sports personalities and everyday life in his weekly newspaper columns.]

CORRECTIONS: Two highway numbers in the second paragraph were wrong in the original version of this column. The current column reflects the corrections.