HISTORY OF PASCO COUNTY
Memories Of Durden’s Grocery
By MARION DURDEN KAMINSKI
My mom, Elmetter Parker, was sixteen when she married my dad, Glen Durden. They were raised in a little town called Grand Ridge, Florida and were married in 1935. He was nineteen and didn’t have much money but he did have a willingness to work hard. The next year my mom’s brother, Willard Parker moved down to another little town in central Florida called Lacoochee. He sent word that there were jobs available, so my dad decided to move to the thriving metropolis of Lacoochee.
Dad started working at the shipyards in Tampa. As soon as he could, he sent for my mom. By this time they had their first child, a son named Leon Yvonne. My seventeen year old mom was a little scared as she boarded the train with her child. She had never ridden a train before and had never gone that far away from home, but she made it to Lacoochee safely. They lived in several places during their first years in Lacoochee. One place was the upstairs apartment of Mr. & Mrs. Sanderson. Not long after they moved to Lacoochee, my aunt and uncle, Rubert and Alma Worrell, moved down.
From time to time they would live together. Times were hard and people helped each other as much as they could. The next year Mom gave birth to a daughter named Frances. Twelve years later I was born and named Linda Marion, but was always called Marion.
My mom and dad both worked at Cummer ’s saw mill for awhile. My dad also worked as a mechanic at Pasco Packing. Eventually my dad bought a piece of property from Mr. May. The property already had a wooden house on it and it included about 7 acres of land. We lived in the house for several years. Later a concrete block home was built and remains on the property today.
In the 1950’s my mom and dad decided to open a grocery store. I believe Clifford Couey encouraged them and helped them as he was also a grocery store owner. The store was built on the southeast corner of our property, on the corner of SR 575 and Durden Road. At the time, the road south of the store was called Coit Road and was a dirt road.
When the store was first built, my mom and dad were still working fulltime jobs. At first they hired another couple to run the grocery store. It was just a small wooden building filled with basic groceries. Eventually, they sold just about anything you could think of except alcoholic beverages. Durden’s Grocery Store became very successful. It was open from 6 AM to 9 PM. My dad would always open up. My mom would come a little later in the morning. They both worked very hard to make the business a success. Through the next few years, they added additional space to the store, building and expanding a couple of times.
In the winter time, heat was provided by a gas heater in the back of the store. In the summertime fans provided cool air. There was a huge candy display by the checkout counter. It was filled with nickel candy bars such as Snickers, Milky Ways, Three Musketeers, Zero Bars and more! Then there was the penny candy - chocolate kisses, Mary Janes, peppermints, Reeses, and so much more I can’t even remember.
I remember the shelves with canned goods, the ice cream freezers, the bread display, medicine and drugs, cookies, and crackers, cleaning supplies, and in the back was the meat freezer and refrigerated display. We custom sliced bacon, lunch meats, and cheese. We cut our own pork chops.
On the west side of the store 50 lb. and 25 lb. bags of dog, chicken, and horse feed were stacked. The bags also provided a place to sit sometimes in the winter when the hunters would gather around the gas heater and share stories.
We sold ice cold soft drinks - bottled Coke, Pepsi, RC, Nehi, and more. When I say ice cold, I mean that sometimes the drinks would actually have ice in them because the night before drinks were put in a freezer. In the morning, they would be transferred to the refrigerated box. Edna Parsons once told me that was one of her memories of Durden’s Grocery - the ice cold soft drinks.
We had two gas tanks and a kerosene pump. Originally we sold Sinclair gas bought from the Lewis Abraham company. Later Sinclair was bought out by BP.
Durden’s Grocery was more than just a grocery store. It was a gathering place - a place where you met people, a place where relationships grew, and a place people could go just to hang out. Outside there were a couple of benches where hunters and fishermen would gather and tell their tales. Some people called it the ’Liar’s Bench’. I’m sure there were many ’lies’ told, but I prefer to call them tales. It was a place where you could hear the latest news or gossip. When I was young, I was very shy and quiet (still am), but I listened a lot - I heard many stories - funny, sad, and poignant - told by men and women. Families would come and spend half hour or more just drinking their Pepsis filled with peanuts and talking to whoever else was there at the same time they were. Kids would play outside sometimes, hunters would bring their deers by, fishermen would bring their fish. I remember one man bringing a wildcat by for us to see. Horace Charles Morgan was always coming by with an alligator, fish, or other treasures he’d found or caught.
When we closed the store at night, the two wooden doors were closed and chained. We always emptied the cash register of the bills and coins. The bills were put into a leather zippered pouch, and the coins were put in a cigar box. We always had a pistol in case we needed it, but never had to use it. I don’t remember anything ever being stolen. My parents allowed people to open charge accounts. It was very informal. Many times parents would say, “Let Johnny get a drink or two, and I’ll pay for it later.” The amounts were written down in a spiral bound notebook or on notecards.
On my mom’s 90th birthday, I wrote letters asking people to send her a card. The goal was 90 cards. She received 235. Some of them shared memories or stories.
Roy Polk wrote in his card:
Ms. Durden, you are a living saint. I remember when you had the store. I was 10 or 12 years old and you let me charge 3 Pepsi colas. I felt 10 feet tall.
Kaye Spivey wrote:
My fondest memory of you has you in your store sitting on the ice cream freezer with your legs dangling. I don’t know how many times I would stop in and you would be there watching TV and minding the store. All of the Spivey children and grandchildren have the best memories of going to “Durdens” to buy candy, drinks, or Mighty Malts. Do you remember those? They were one of our very favorite purchases. Of course you, Marion or Mr. Durden, and occasionally Frances, were always there with a smiling face and gracious manner. No purchase was too small or insignificant. No child was ignored or looked over but always treated like a valued customer. How wonderful were those days when life seemed easy, days were filled with fun and games and people respected other people. A walk to the river could fill an entire afternoon and you would come home with an arm full of wild flowers to enjoy.Anita Handley Kline wrote:
Mrs. Durden, I am a granddaughter of Elmer and Alma Spivey. My mother is Marie. Some of my favorite childhood memories are of going to Durden’s Store with my cousins after holiday dinners at my grandparent’s house. We would beg money from our parents and go to the store for candy. I remember the look, smell and feel of the store, and to this day I try to describe it to my friends.
Durden’s Grocery closed in 1974, but the tales and memories still remain. One thing I missed when the store closed was not knowing what was going on in the community. In fact, communication is a major issue in the community today. When the store closed, the building remained for several years until it was torn down.
I have many pleasant memories of the store and people that would come and share their life stories. I would love to hear any more stories from others that include Durden’s Grocery.