This year, I'm continuing to break in the next generation in my annual Christmas Eve pilgrimage to Williams Brothers store. Grandson Rowan, now six and master of all he surveys, is ready for a second trip.

My grandfather J.C. Salter (Mr. John, most folks called him), and my father both took me to the store Neshoba County locals call 'Williamsville' for the community on the outskirts of Philadelphia where it is located.

Williams Brothers store harkens back to another generation, a better one.

When my grandfather was taking my father to the store almost a century ago, the store sold groceries, staple goods, tobacco and snuff, farm implements, horse bridles and collars, plow lines, tools, barbed wire, shoes, boots, clothing, tobacco, feed, seed, and the best hoop cheese, bologna and slab bacon in the world.

They still do.

But when one is the age of my grandson, those aren't the items that catch your fancy. Kids tend to notice the old-time candy - round tins of King Leo peppermint sticks, chocolate creme drops, boxes of fat raisins still on the stems, jelly bean orange slices, butterscotch and other hard candy delights.

Then there's the fireworks - big, nasty loud ones and bright, sparkling little ones. The fireworks are in the back. Last year, Rowan was somewhat overwhelmed at the selection.

One offering that's not a staple of my childhood memories are the Peyton and Eli Manning football jerseys that are for sale. But Rowan is - like most boys his size - very excited about walking where the Manning boys have trod.

Peyton, Eli and Cooper Manning - the sons of Archie and Olivia Williams Manning - each spent part of their summers in Neshoba County at the store, bagging groceries and helping stock the shelves.

For me, visits to the old general mercantile store at Williamsville are special. I look for my friends Sid Williams and Jane Crosswhite.

While Sid and Jane - cousins and descendants of the founding Williams Brothers - have modernized the store and kept the business growing, my joy comes from the fact that in great measure the store remains the same as it did when I was a little boy there in the 1960s with my grandparents or my parents.

Now that my grandparents and parents are gone, my trips to Neshoba County center on a few reliable anchors. The old store is chief among them. Some might suggest that having an emotional connection to an old general mercantile store is a bit strange. Perhaps they're right.

But I know few people who grew up in east central Mississippi who don't share that connection to the store at Williamsville. The sights, the smells, the sound of the bacon slicer and the chatter bring to my mind memories of the best days of my life.

Christmas isn't Christmas to me without spending a few minutes in the store.

Having my curious grandson along makes it all the better.

How can I explain it? It's as if I can hears the echoes of the footsteps of my people in that old store, hear my mother's voice and feel my father's hand on my shoulder.

I can look out the window and see my Papaw Salter sitting on the tailgate of his truck rolling his own from a tin of Prince Albert with OCB papers.

How I hope that a half-century from now, Rowan will stare out that same window and remember trips he made to the store with me.

Merry Christmas!

Contact syndicated columnist Sid Salter at (601) 961-7084 or e-mail

Sid Salter

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