Earl Reid never took to minding a country store, so it came as no surprise to those who know him that when his mother grew too ill to care about the shop in Fairfax County, he locked it up and walked away.

Inside he left a treasure of sorts.

The shelves are lined with canned goods whose manufacturers have long since disappeared. A scale sits idle on a dusty wooden counter, its window dark with soot. Besides it stands a display case full of patent medicines from the '30s.

And in the corner is the rocking chair where his mother - known as Aunt Nellie to many of those who traded there - whiled away the last of her 94 years. Its bowed rockers are flat from long years of use.

Earl Reid never was comfortable running the store at 8213 Ox Rd.

"He said he'd walk the road and beg before he'd keep store," said Kathy Halley, 68, who lives nearby.

One the north outside wall of the store is a sprawling 7-up sign declaring it to be "Reed's Store." Next to it, in equally bold letters is a Pepsi sign, announcing that it is the "Reid Store."

It has been more than a decade since Earl Reid stood by as the two competing sponsors put up their respective signs. He never gave it a second thought.

"It didn't make any difference to me. A lot of people spell their name R-E-E-D, don't they?" he asked, a mischievous glint in his eyes.

Although Reid still sells grain and feed occasionally, the store hasn't operated on a regular basis for six years and has been closed for three or four, leaving Reid free to devote more attention to his nearby fields and cattle and his job driving a school but.

And if it troubles some neighbors or curiosity-seekers that all that stock is gathering dust, few can quarrel with Reid when he claims "there ain't no law to make you sell."

So it seems the green shutters and door will remain sealed on one of the few remaining country stores in Fairfax County. Local historian Nan Netherton, who has been studying the county's history for a quarter of a century, says the country store is "not just an endangered species, but a vanishing species," and that with them is disappearing the rural life they served.

Reid's store sits close to Rte. 123, which is heavily traveled by dump trucks and construction vehicles used in the construction of town houses only a few miles away.

The present structure, its paint blistered and its foundations surrounded by waist-high grasses, enjoys the shade of a towering tulip tree. Built in 1929 by Earl Reid and his father, it replaced a 1922 store that was burned down by burglars.

It is at the heart of an enclave of perhaps a half dozen life-long residents who choose to ignore the encroaching metropolitan spread.

It stirs sweet memories and is a bitter reminder that the times of which it was a part have slipped away.

"Aund Nellie used to make the biggest ice cram cones I ever saw in my life. She used to put six scoops on each cone, Mrs. Halley recalls.

She spoke of the large open boxes of cookies and crackers, the shelves of thread, the pork and sausage.

"You never had to take a number and wait. Sometimes on a Saturday afternoon there might be two or three people in there and we'd talk of what was going on," she said.

But there wasn't much time for idle gossip. There was simply too much to be done around the farm, Mrs. Halley said. Now widowed, the retired school teacher looks out her window in the direction of the country store.

"Now I've got plenty of time and Aunt Nellie is not there to sit with. That's the way it is."

Aunt Nellie was known to cater to her customers' every need, and after each purchase, "she would scribble on a small piece of paper and go to the window and hold it up to see what she was doing. I expect you can still find a whole pile of those tabs on the counter. Some people still owe 'em," Mrs. Halley said.

"She never heard of a cast register. She wouldn't want one of those new-fangled things," she said.

As Mrs. Halley was talking the large construction trucks rumbled past her house.

"They'll widen the road next thing you know," she said.

"I never have lived with people right up close to me, so I wouldn't know what to do with them. I reckon I could learn . . ."

She says she will not resist their coming, that it is a "free country," and "if they want to come out here, I can't stop them. I don't blame them for wanting to get out of town. I'd kick and scream if someone told me I'd had to live in the city," she said.

She says she is amazed how quickly homes are being built in the area.

"I went by on Friday, there was nothing. Next Monday there was a town house there. We say they plant them. They throw out seeds and after a while they sprout them," she said.

Reid owns more than 300 acres, Mrs. Halley owns eight and her sister-in-law Ruth Nevitt three. They see their land as a protection buffer against steadily advancing suburbia.

The talk of their holdings as a freedom or sanctuary for their treasured way of life that's already somewhat eroded by the increasing traffic.

Of the town houses' advance, Mrs. Nevitt said, "We hate it . . . So far they haven't gotten in."