Josna Rege

288. Bless Them

In 2010s, Inter/Transnational, people, Stories, United States on November 7, 2014 at 3:34 pm
An old hardware store (Neal Pasricha,

An old hardware store (not mine) Neal Pasricha,

Bright and early this morning, still bleary-eyed, I pulled into the parking lot of our local hardware store, the only remaining one in town given the proliferation of all the big-box chain stores in the neighboring town, more business–friendly than ours. I needed to get some keys copied, and wanted to support a local business.

The moment I stepped in I felt myself to be on foreign ground. There was not a single woman to be found—just men, men as far as the eye could see: men behind the counter, men making purchases, men out in in the warehouse stocking the shelves. Of the three who seemed to work there, one didn’t seem to be helping customers, though he didn’t look up and meet my eye, so I couldn’t be sure whether he was free or whether he was engaged in some important business. I found myself addressing him tentatively, in an almost apologetic tone, as if I feared disturbing his concentration.

Although I already knew the answer, having called ahead to inquire, I asked him if they made copies of keys. He replied laconically in the affirmative, in such a quiet voice that I had to strain to hear him, and with an enigmatic expression that could have reflected either reluctance to serve me or extreme shyness bordering on some form of autism. I had already started to take the master key off my key ring when he told me that I needn’t, so I handed it to him, unaccountably overcome with awkwardness, and while he went off to do the job, wandered up and down the aisles of the store, marveling at the fascinating variety of items on its well-stocked shelves.

championIt was a different world from the one I usually inhabit. Every display and every aisle had a specialized purpose, with an orderly but bewildering variety of tools and supplies with obscure names—some of which I recognize, thanks to my husband and his grandfather, but few that I come across in my daily round. There were emergency supplies in case of a power outage during a storm: hurricane lamps, firelighters, boxes of wooden strike-anywhere matches, and thick, utilitarian-looking candles; energy-saving light bulbs and batteries of every size and shape, both throw-away and rechargeable; all sorts of paints and stains and sealants; and building supplies with evocative names, from stud magnets to shims.

As my reticent counter-clerk rang up my order—coming out of his shell long enough to tell me that I could bring the copies back to be fine-tuned if they stuck in the lock—I listened with half an ear to two or three guys shooting the breeze with the clerk at the other register. They were engaged in easy banter, two of them gently teasing the other, who it seemed had a little hideaway in the woods up in one of the surrounding towns, a hippie haven for the past fifty years. From the snatches of conversation I overheard, they seemed to be commenting on the changing character of the area with rural gentrification. While I was pocketing the new keys and taking my receipt, one of them was telling the others that Lake Wyola (in the town to the north of ours) “used to be called Lost Pond, but they wanted to upmarket it.”

As I left the store, far from noting to myself in pedantic English-teacherly fashion that I had never before heard upmarket used as a verb, I found myself filled with gratitude and affection for this community of men, tight-lipped, taciturn though some might be, even a little uncomfortable in mixed company, with whole areas of expertise I had only the vaguest idea about, and an altogether different way of using language and being in the world. Bless them.

Tell Me Another (Contents to Date)

Chronological Table of Contents

  1. A secret society… scheduled to disappear soon, I fear.

    • That’s a sad thought. You do mean old-time hardware store guys, right, and not men?;)
      But seriously, I hope our society continues to value people who know how to do things with their hands. When the power goes out and the computers lie useless we will need them.

  2. We had a local hardware store when I lived in Lake County MI. It was owned by a husband wife team and the wife was there as much as the husband. Their daughter came into the business after college and I’m pretty sure she is running it by now as they were older than my husband and I. No hideaway for men there. The other hardware store in town was a tru-value and it was also a husband wife team.

    • Kristin, I’m glad of your corrective, because eve as I was writing I was well aware of female friends and family members who are completely at home in a hardware store and in no way see it as exclusively a men’s domain. Although it was an all-male environment that morning, I did not feel any hostility at all; but the atmosphere had a certain unique feel to it, and I wanted to express appreciation for it, and them. I imagine a hardware store run by a husband-wife team would have its own unique atmosphere as well.

  3. Oh, Josna! I SO appreciate this slice-of-life post. When I began reading, I was afraid you were going to chastise these men for being chauvanistic, but instead you describe perfectly their anachronistic behavior and embrace it for what it is – living history.

    I’m all for social progress, but part of tolerance and diversity should be acceptance and, even embrace, for that generation of men who worked their whole lives in male environments who might be befuddled about how they fit in a society that has left them behind. Their roles, their businesses, their societal norms have all been upended – teutonic shifts that, while necessary, still rock the core of the way of life they knew.

    You wrote this so well. I could see it and smell it and hear it. The stores of my childhood and the men who provided for their families in workplaces like this.

    • I’m so glad, Sammy. And I’m glad that, as opinionated as its writer is, TMA is still unpredictable enough to surprise a reader now and then. We must honor our elders where honor is due and value what they have to offer, even if they have fallen out of step with the times (or the times with them). Thank you.

  4. Oh yes, bless them! Isn’t it fascinating, and humbling, to enter different worlds, to make short visits on someone else’s turf! I love how you describe it all. Makes me think of how I joined my father as a little girl when he had to buy some special tools/materials, it was a mystery to me what it was, but all the adults involved in the conversation just knew.

    • Yes, I agree that it’s humbling, and healthily unsettling, to enter someone else’s world for a (short) while, and realize that they too speak a specialized language all their own. I can almost imagine the scene you describe as well, of little you accompanying your father on errands to a place full of strange implements called by unknown names. Thank you for visiting and leaving such a nice comment.

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