Dellinger’s Grocery—1947 (By Doug Fincher)

July 31, 2017 - When I was in the 5th grade, Daddy and Mother moved our family of six children to an old rent house owned by Mr. Jim Booth.  All of Center, Texas’ grocery stores were at that time privately owned and small. Our “new” rent house on Shelbyville Street was located across the tracks in East Center near three of these small stores: Barnette’s, Hagler’s and the Pete Dellinger store.

Pete Dellinger let us buy groceries on credit and pay our bill once every two weeks. When Mother couldn’t pay our bill, she’d have me take a note to Mr. Dellinger. It was always word -by -word the same: “Due to circumstances not under my control, I will not be able to pay my bill at this time.”

Since there was no “pre-package” lunch meat back then, Pete let us choose the thickness of our lunch meat. Dried pinto beans were displayed in a large bucket on the floor. We’d scoop them, weigh them, and take them home to wash… wash…and wash until all the dirt and rocks were gone. We bought 25 pound sacks of Gingham Girl flour so Mother could make dresses from the colorful sacks.

Even though WW II was over, many things were still rationed. Things like sugar, cigarettes, chocolate candy and shortening were near impossible to find. I often saw Mr. Dellinger sneak packs of cigarettes from under the counter to one of his best customers. He called me to the counter one day, handed me a sack from under the counter and said, “Henry, take this to your mother.” “Tell her it’s a gift for being such a good customer.” Mother almost cried when she opened the sack and found a pound box of Crustene lard. One of the secrets of her great biscuits was adding some lard to the other ingredients (plus buttermilk) and knead the dough until it was just right. Instead of using a cookie cutter, she just shaped the dough with her hands and WALLAH! Within a few minutes in the oven, we had Cathead biscuits fit for a king!

I recently took Pam to this area in East Center where I lived 66 years ago. A huge Tyson chicken plant now stands across the street where the Munnerlyns used to live and two of the little stores were long gone. But when I looked across the street, I couldn’t believe my eyes! There it was! Dellinger’s was still there. Closed for many years it still looked basically like it did 66 years ago. As I peered through the front window, I envisioned Pete standing at the meat slicer asking, “Henry, how do you want it sliced today?”

Pete Dellinger was struggling to make a living just like we were back then. He gave credit to scores of needy people…. knowing full well he’d probably never get paid.  As I stood looking at his old store that day and remembered those years in East Center, Texas, my eyes teared up by all the memories of those very hard…
                                                         …and very beautiful days.