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MJ History: Punk, Maurice Jennings and his country stores

This week we have another story from the Mt. Juliet Homecoming magazine, which is published each year along with the event. This week, we have “Punk: Maurice Jennings & His Country Stores.” It was written by Melody Jennings Griffin. 

If you lived in Mt. Juliet in the 1960s and 1970s, you will no doubt remember Maurice “Punk” Jennings, and his grocery stores, known as Jennings’ Grocery. These were honest-to-goodness country stores, the kind you seldom find anymore. Big chain stores are fast replacing these kinds of stores, but these older stores often provided the kind of service you cannot find in many of the larger stores. 

Times were sure different when Daddy operated his stores. You knew all of your customers, except on rare occasions when an out-of-towner would stop by for gas. Customers became friends, and would often stop by for a Coke, and just to talk. By the way, these Cokes were in the green bottles, and were always ice cold from being in the old-fashioned coke box type cooler. 

Many people kept an “account” at Daddy’s store. They would buy what they needed – gas, canned items, bread, snacks and lunchmeat – and would ask Daddy to put in their account. When they were paid on Fridays, they would bring their paychecks to Daddy, he cashed it, and they would pay what they owed him. The following week, this account started all over again. 

There’s no telling how many sandwiches Daddy made. I remember the ham and cheese and the bologna and cheese sandwiches he made, and I bet he made thousands of them over the years. Often business people would come into “Punk’s” at lunch time, just to have one of these sandwiches and a soft drink. Add an oatmeal cookie or chocolate cupcake to that, and they had a good lunch, along with good conversation, and afterwards happily returned to their jobs. 

Daddy had stores at three different locations during his lifetime. The first was located on Highway 70, across from where West Elementary School is now located. That building was built in 1936 by my Uncle Urby, Daddy’s brother, who operated it until Daddy took it over in the 1960s. I can remember the big old pot bellied stove the side of the building, and it heated the entire space. My uncle had living quarters in the back, and he lived there for many years. 

The second store location was at Highway 70 and the corner of Benders Ferry Road. Although, there is a building there now, it is not the same one Daddy operated. That old one was torn down and rebuilt further back. This location was popular stopping place for people going to the lake. They would buy ice, drink, snacks and sandwich supplies mostly. Also, this was a stopping place for some of the country singers, who would stop in before heading to Bradley’s Recording Barn, located further down Benders Ferry Road. Burl Ives had a house on this road, and he stopped in often. 

The last location for Daddy’s store was on the Old Railroad Bed Road, or W. Division Street. I can remember that Daddy always “kept a pot of coffee on.” Anyone who came in that store always knew they were welcome to a cup, and they were told to “help themselves.”

Now let me write a little about the man himself, and his earlier years. My father was the youngest child born to Walter Scott and Laura Belle Peek Jennings. He was born May 28, 1914. Seven children were in the family, which included brothers Urby, Jim, Fen and Billy and sisters, Doris and Lucille. Several children were born at the old home place, which was located on Nonaville Road. This place was set fire by arsonists in the 1980s and destroyed. Many memories of past times went up and flame that day. 

Daddy graduated from Mt. Juliet High School in 1933. He was very good at basketball in school, and was on the 1933 championship team. After high school graduation and a stint in the Army, my father moved to Akron, Ohio, to work for B.F. Goodrich, making tires. This was in the 1940s. He rented a small room, which was standard for these times. For meals, he went to a local drugstore, which had a food counter, and it was there he met the woman who would later become his wife, and my mother. Her name was Lois LaTondress. Mother was still in high school, and worked at the drugstore to help support her mother and siblings. Her father died when she was 16 years old, and being one of the other children, it was up to her to work and help her family. 

Daddy returned home to Mt. Juliet after the death of his mother in 1947. My mother had graduated by this time, and Daddy sent her to come to Tennessee. Momma and Daddy married on Nov. 8, 1947. Places to live were really scarce in those days, but Daddy found and rented an apartment that belonged to Clyde and Porter Taylor, located on Lebanon Highway. This place is long gone, but it was located across the street from what is now Hardee’s and KFC. 

Daddy went to work for Dupont, but was laid off when the rayon department closed. He later had a Double Cola drink route in Wilson County, and then worked in construction before going into the grocery store business. 

We lost Daddy suddenly on Jan. 10, 1980. He was only 65 years old. At his funeral, the minister said, “Mt. Juliet has lost one of its favorite sons.” Our lives have not been the same since losing him. He is thought about and missed every day. 

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