Astle, Hiram

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                                               HIRAM ASTLE
                                             By Cathy Carnahan

Quarryville will miss Astle

Astle’s General Store opened for business as usual on Saturday morning, but it’ll never be the same again. Hiram Astle, 67, died last week. His wife, Grace, hopes to keep the store in Quarryville open, but it won’t be easy. She and Hiram were in business together for 18 years. They bought the store from Hiram’s parents, James and Ambrozine, on April 1, 1973.

Exactly 18 years later – on April 1, 1991 – Hiram died at the Moncton Hospital after a brief illness.

The Quarryville man was neither rich nor famous but he won’t be forgotten.

“Hiram and the store have been the focal point of the community for the past 18 years, a place where he and his friends would meet on a daily basis,” Arthur Gillis said in his friend’s eulogy on Friday. Hiram was a reknowned storyteller and he and his tales have amused and entertained his family and friends for three generations. He was an adventurer, traveller and entrepreneur, always testing some new business venture. It has been said that Hiram knew almost everyone and that those he didn’t know, knew him. No matter where he went, Hiram found a friend,” Gillis said. Hiram loved children and was like a second father to many of his nieces and nephews.”

Grace Astle sat at the table in the kitchen of the store on Monday morning and looked at the eulogy Gillis had read. “That was Hiram,” she said. “He always said, ‘things go bad for awhile. Then they get worse, but then there’s a break tomorrow. He was always looking for that break tomorrow. He was always optimistic, too optimistic sometimes,” she said sadly.

It was often hard for her to hold back the tears. Grace Astle not only lost her husband but also her friend.

“Friday, we shined up his old black Lincoln,” she said. It followed the hearse with his immediate family. “That was a final tribute to Hiram. That was his Lincoln. That was his pride. Next to Shirley, that was it,” she said.

Shirley is the couple’s daughter. Hiram also had a son, Darrell, and a daughter, Marion, from a previous marriage.

Grace looked out the window. “He loved this store,” she said. “He did what he wanted to do right up until he died. And, you know, he lived a lot in his lifetime,” she added. “He travelled a lot and he did a lot of the things he wanted to do. He was only 14 when he had his first crew in the woods. Hiram was involved in the lumber industry and Christmas tree sales all his life,” she said. “Every season when that rolled around he had to be into it. He was only 67, but he lived a lot in those years,” she added. “Newfoundland was the only province he never made it to. Shirley always said she and her dad were going to fly…there, but they never made it.”

Grace got up from the table and went over to a cupboard.

“Shirley thought her father had to have a gold watch,” she said. The pocket watch, carefully engraved with Love from Shirley, was given to Hiram on his 65th birthday. “He showed everyone that watch,” Grace said. “He was so proud. She gave him a nice knife, too, and everyone had to see it. “She used to say, ‘Oh, Daddy, you’re embarrassing me,’ but he was awful proud of her.

“I know she has been a great joy and comfort to me, too,” she said.

Losing a dear one is not easy and Friday friends and family gathered to say goodbye to Hiram at the Blackville Anglican Church.

Active pallbearers were Jarrod Ingersoll, Reg Stimson, Lawrence Gerrish, Glen Gerrish, Hubert Jardine, Ray Jardine, Bobby Pleadwell and Mel Scott. Honorary pallbearers were Vincent Jardine, Leo rivers, George Carney, Simon O’Brien, Dennis Washburn, Bill Schofield, Leslie Jardine and Eric Jardine.

“The choir sang two hymns, Hiram’s favorite, The Old Rugged Cross, and the other one we used to hear him sing, Softly and Tenderly,” Grace said.

Grace Astle hopes to continue business

Astle’s General Store was to celebrate 70 years in business this year, but there is not much to celebrate.

Owner Hiram Astle died last week.

His wife, Grace, sat at a small table in the family kitchen off their store on Monday morning and looked out the window. It was a cold, damp day, but the view of the Renous and Southwest Miramichi rivers meeting was beautiful. It’s a place fishermen love to go and Grace is eager for their return.

“I have the best season ahead of me,” she said. Business has been slow lately and it’s been difficult, but she wants to keep trying.

“I need a home and I need a job and I have them both here, so I’ve got to try and hang on,” she said.

Hiram’s parents, James and Ambrozine, started the business in 1921. The first store burned on March 26, 1957, but that same year, a new building wet up on the old foundation. On April 1, 1973 Hiram and Grace bought the family business and it has been their livelihood ever since.

They had an apartment on one end of the store in the early years. Then about 14 years ago they expanded their living quarters. The store and the Astle’s home have always been one. Old-fashion cheese and big pails of cornbeef have been the drawing cards in the business over the years. They still are.

Bulk candy, newspapers, meats, hardware and plumbing supplies are some of the other products sold in the general store. There is also a lunch counter with coffee, sandwiches and subs.

“The road changing here hurt us, but Hiram wouldn’t admit it,” Grace said. Quarryville used to be on the main highway. After the new bypass went in, that changed. The metric system also did some damage to their business, Grace said. “When that came in they had to give up their kerosene oil tanks and glass cutting operation,” she said. “They still call me sometimes looking for a piece of glass.”

Source: Miramichi Leader – April 10, 1991

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