Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Summer Hardware [CCR]

Spring may have reached Alabama, but it is barely peaking over the horizon here in Ohio. While we enjoyed a rather warm day, tonight’s forecast includes the possibility of snow. So with the long cold spells up here my thoughts often turn to my Alabama summers to bring warmth to the soul.

Good weather here means work around the house which includes trips to that big box hardware store over in town. I walk through those stores and they have just about everything that a person might need and a whole lot of stuff you hope you never need. Folks here won’t believe me, but we had that convenience growing up in Cherokee. And it included a personal touch that just can’t be duplicated in large volume.

Most people born prior to my entrance into this great world might remember Mr. Harris’s cotton gin. It was located just north of town on Main Street. But, by the time I came along it had become the location for just about anything a person would need around the house. In fact, the very heart of the house I grew up in came from that place. Ralph Guthrie and Homajean Grisham bought the gin and it had become Grisham and Guthrie Building Supply, or at least that is how I remember the name. We just called it Grisham and Guthrie.

Just about any project around the house meant a trip out to Grisham and Guthrie. I always enjoyed wandering through the various nooks and crannies of storage finding what we needed. And most of those warm summer days Dad would buy me a Coke out of the machine that sat just outside the office door. Usually Dad would explain what he needed and Mr. Singleton or Mr. Long would take us around until we had either gathered or listed everything we needed. If it didn’t fit on our old 1951 Chevy truck then Mr. Long would gladly bring it out to the house on one of their trucks.

My Granddaddy Daily had made a living as a woodsman and was an accomplished carpenter. Dad learned many of those great carpenter skills from him and it seemed almost magical how Dad figured up what we needed for our projects. I guess watching his ease of figuring lumber is one reason I became fascinated with math and ended up with an engineering degree. But once we had the list then Dad and one of the guys at the store would carefully cull through the piles of lumber picking the best pieces in the pile. It just seemed natural.

Now if lumber wasn’t what you needed you didn’t have to worry. As a small boy it seemed half the buildings in Cherokee were at that place. And those buildings were filled with plumbing supplies, electrical wire, and even appliance parts. Our water heater had a gift for attracting lightning and we bought quite a few heating elements there.

Once the order was ready we proceeded to the office where Mr. Grisham or Mr. Guthrie always seemed to have a smile and story to tell while you rested in the air conditioning. It always seemed especially nice in there after loading lumber on a truck and wandering around that maze of supplies. And so the conversation continued as we figured up the bill on a paper invoice, personally written and ciphered without the use of a laser that would burn your eye out if you look too close. Once the paper work was done two copies came from the pad, the cash drawer rang, we paid our bill, and we were on our way to complete another project.

I imagine if I were able to live back home most people might know me in those big stores in town. But, here you have to run your stash across the register by yourself while a machine tells you how to pay the bill in a conveniently impersonal fashion. If you’re willing to pay the price and are lucky you can wander down to the grocery and may still find cola in a glass bottle. Take it home, chill it in the fridge, and sit with a friend in the warm sun. It’ll cool your body and warm your soul. But don’t forget to add the peanuts.