Grandpa and me and the hardware store made three.
A hardware store trip with grandpa always started with a need for a gallon of paint or a certain sized screw and ended with a scoop or two of ice cream. I’d tag along knowing he would reward me with a cold treat if I was good. Good, meaning I didn’t knock over the glass jars that lined the shelves and I kept my lips zipped until old man Cross acknowledged me with a “Well, who do we have here?” like he’d never seen me before.
If his wife was running the counter, she’d offer me a homemade hard tack candy from the bowl by the metal cash register that looked like a safe deposit box with numbers on large levers. I’d stroll the dimly light aisles scanning the cobwebbed shelves, the musty smell of damp wood emanating from the floor where the ceiling was dripping onto it.
The thought of that dusty place with hand tools and motor parts makes my nose tingle with a sneeze … but, it also makes me want to run back through that slamming door and hug my grandpa’s neck and not because he bought me ice cream, but because he knew how to balance work with a little play. He knew we’d spend twice as long on a bench outside the ice cream shop as we’d spend inside that hardware store. He knew I didn’t relish accompanying him on such a chore, but that if he enticed me to go, he got to spend a splendid spot of time with me under the shade of a tree. Then grandpa, me and the tree made three.
We could’ve made three — made memories inside a superstore, too, but somehow a store that size seems to dwarf the people in my picture. Besides, franchises that offered conglomerations of items from lipstick to turnips didn’t exist when grandpa was alive. You wanted paint or tools, you went to the hardware store. Needed buttons or material to sew a dress, you went to the fabric shop. Gas was only sold at the gas station, hair was only cut at the beauty shop or the kitchen table and ice cream was scooped at the ice cream parlor or an occasional Sunday social.
Yes, it meant more buzzing around town, more stops to make, but the upside was when you asked for a yardstick, the clerk didn’t ask what you needed a stick in your yard for and why you couldn’t just break off a twig from your own tree. Employees not only knew the merchandise, they usually knew what you wanted when they saw you coming, just like your favorite waitress at the diner knew you were going to want your coffee with two creams, no sugar and poached eggs. Of course, there weren’t so many coffee choices that they needed to fill an entire wall with the options, either. It was black and you dumped in the cream or sugar as you liked.
Stores that specialize in specific items now are often called boutiques and the upcharge is such that you are tempted to shop the chain stores even if it takes you longer to navigate the mega-store and find someone who knows, not only what you are searching for, but which aisle it’s in.
I do like my sugar-free, decaf vanilla latte, but, hey, I’d gladly tinker back to a dusty day where bribes were cold and lazy trees provided shade — even if I only had bold or breakfast blend to choose from.
Michele Zirkle Marcum is a native of Meigs County and an author. Her column appears each Tuesday.