here’s an unwritten theory (until now) that sometime before our birth but while we were developing in Heavenly realms, we soon-to-be-people attended a mandatory basic training course called ‘boy’s school’ or ‘girl’s school.’ Therefore, we were born with an established skill-set and aptitude that is suitable for future living with our respective genders. An example is man’s propensity to gravitate toward sports, cars, hardware, and other such things, as opposed to the girl’s tendency to enjoy fabric, flowers and the security of having a ‘best friend’ who understands. One gender talks to communicate important data often related to safety or success only; while the other talks about some abstract and unfathomable strange thing called ‘feelings.’ I’m taken back to the song in My Fair Lady, sung by Professor Henry Higgins ‘Why can’t a Woman be more like a Man?”
Now lest you think of me as a total loss or a throwback to some Neanderthal being, please understand that I am not trying to press the issue that such a school really exists or that Henry was somehow right. Indeed, I salute the differences between the sexes. I have always been mystified and intrigued by the workings of intellect by both genders as each jostle with the other hoping for a strategic advantage. I have suspected for years that it isn’t who wins, because no one truly would enjoy victory without the other. Rather it is important that both win. Those most successful are willing to concede to the other’s pleasure except in cases where true suffering may occur or the problem is totally misunderstood by the other. The real losers are those that give up the battle. Some try to completely concede one’s manhood or womanhood, or walk away from the struggle altogether, taking their losses with them. Winners know that true victory is found best in teamwork. In other words, life should be like a Hallmark movie. It will not be stress free, but it will have a happy ending.
All this posturing aside, my subject today will likely be boring to those having attended ‘girl’s school,’ for I have little else to say in this article that may be of any importance to most of you. Still, you are invited to read on if you wish. I believe in equal opportunity and applaud those able to cross lines and become true buddies. Understanding that men have a fascination for certain things may help you see his motivation or point of view. Now let’s all travel into a first experience or set of experiences that help define a portion of a man’s complex life.
To a man there is little better than having the right tool for the job. Working in a shop on a project, or trying to create a masterpiece of wood or steel requires careful planning and design. But anyone can see that using a pair of pliers to turn a screw is not efficient or healthy for the man’s disposition or the poor screw. It is only a little better to turn a bolt with the pliers, but use a ratchet with the proper socket and the mechanic is in heaven. Ergo, you have man’s dream of always having the best equipped shop-garage-whatever. We all want a ‘Tim the Tool Man Taylor’ kind of shop. We’ll save for another time the idea of keeping things in order so the tools can be found when needed, (we all could use an Al to pick up after us). This is a lesson desperately needed for children and certain uncaring adults (and you thought Sloppy Joe was a sandwich?).
So, as we delve into this man’s world I will tell you of some early experiences when I discovered hardware stores. I recall that the floors were wooden and that they creaked a little with each step, even for us lightweights (of the time). They were brownish-grey and often patched and splintered. The rough boards had enough strength to hold up tons of shelving, glass-fronted cases, counters a mile long, and great lots of nail kegs, screws and other fixtures. In the corners and recesses there were lots of boxes of things yet undiscovered and unnamed, some showing the skull and crossbones on the label that even I as a young fellow understood to be poison or dangerous. I saw plumbing fixtures and pipe made of iron and copper and brass (No plastic in those days). I saw spigots and plungers, and nipples, ells and couplings. My eyes grew ever wider as I saw fuses, wires, and duplex electrical outlets. (By this time, I had already discovered the thrill of electrical shock the hard way.) There were chains, wire, cables, ropes and twines f every kind. There was fencing, traps, cages and left-handed do-hickeys. Against a wall were pegboard displays and shelving holding every kind of tool known to modern man. Some were painted red, or made of shinny stainless steel. Some had wooden handles reflecting glossy coats of shellac. Some were hand tools, some were electrical, and some were from a special group known as pneumatic. These last ones had hose connections sticking out of one end. The compressors, both horizontal and vertical, crowned the display with signs speaking of mysterious terms like psi. So much to learn!
Then right there before me was the one thing that really took my breath away. The glass case was full of every kind of knife I had ever seen, (sans kitchen ware) and a few I hadn’t. Some were what I came to know as a jackknife; some were Bowie knives; some stag-horned hunting knives; a pig-sticker, or two was there as was the famous Swiss Army Knife. Because we were a small town the switch-blade knife didn’t make the cut! Standing in front of this display mesmerized me and put me into a whole new world. It was here that I learned my first financial lesson as I purposed in my heart to open a savings account. I had to have money! I needed this stuff! As a nearly normal youth, my first bank looked much like a round belly pig cleverly fashioned pink pottery. Of course, it barely survived until I met the goal. I picked up the coins from the shards of ceramics and raced to the store to choose my prize. After that I found that a lidded canning jar would do the trick so long as I kept it well hidden. I didn’t fear theft of my coins, should someone have an urge to borrow from my hoard to buy a candy bar or some other such temptation. I am certain I hid it well to prevent preying hands….wait! Where did I put that jar?
During the time when I was growing up there were a number of such wonderful places just ripe for exploring by man and boy alike. Occasionally, even a ‘tom-boy’ would be caught peeking. One such store was fairly near my home and just behind the old train depot. I think it was called Home Supply Store, but that could be wrong. I believe there is a thrift store occupying the space now. The men inside were friendly and knew my family so I felt welcome every time I drifted in. It was a wonderful discovery when I found out that I could say ‘just looking.’ By uttering that expression I was allowed to assume the grownup posture and stand mesmerized like so many others with my hands stuffed into my pockets. Known as the ‘hardware store stare’ the owners fully understood and shared in my joy. They allowed me many happy hours of browsing through their dusty boxes. Now anyone that has been to ‘boy’s school’ knows that a great many things race through a man’s mind while browsing. This is the fodder that matures into great visions and from that, evolves progress. Girls, never, ever awaken such a person from their trance; lest all of our futures suffer for it and some structure, somewhere collapses from design flaws.
There was another hardware store downtown, just across Madison from the Methodist Church that we attended. This was Moore’s Hardware and was a staple in town for many years. Bill Elkins reminded me that Don Fluty ran this during our high school years, and that later Bill Keeton bought into the store. Bill Keeton was my Sunday school teacher for years and had numerous ventures including a frozen locker business and a Ford dealership. I think the hardware store had a lower floor with stairs in the center descending to the basement. I think that it may have also had a mezzanine, or a kind of an open half-second floor. There was so much stuff in there. I remember galvanized buckets and gardening tools, seeds, fencing, fishing equipment, sporting goods and all kinds of wonderful things. They had signs everywhere pointing out sales, seasonal specials, the virtues of products and those ever-important brand names. What a wonderful place of dreams!
As if that wasn’t enough, just past the courthouse and bandstand there was another hardware store on lower Main Street, between Main Cross and Vinson. This store I knew as Wellman’s Hardware. History lessons make me think this was an original business on the banks of the Big Sandy. I’ve seen old pictures with horses, wagons, and equipment from another era. That shadowy picture in my mind makes me think it had a large wooden awning that came out over the sidewalk. It had multi-framed glass windows all along a double, or even triple front. The store (or my memory of it) was a little dark but I also remember these people were friends of my family. They treated me special and teased me when I was small. I loved the attention. This is the one that R.C. Wells later purchased when he left teaching at LHS.
Thinking about it, there were even more such stores around if you count ‘general’ stores that carried different kinds of hardware. Each had a kind of niche, I guess, but I frankly wondered how so many could survive in such a small town during a depression. I guess building and farming were better industries than I realized.
When it was finally nearing time for me to graduate and consider whether to stay around Louisa or not, these stores were one of the things that I knew I would miss if I were to leave. I was right. I still miss those lazy days of browsing through the nails, but the world has changed. I suspect the big box stores are causing havoc and putting many of the small guys out of business. I hope not, because the service levels and the friendliness of local merchants will be missed. The men who ran them were the pillars of the community and their children were our friends.
Later in life I worked for a time in a big city for Sears, Roebuck and Company. While holding several positions with this firm, my favorite was the hardware department. I came to learn about radial arm and bench saws, band saws, lathes, drill presses, and on and on. I now have a hobby of fixing up old houses and restoring them to a like new condition and am always working on a long list of honey-do’s. I have several sons that love to work with tools, having learned from helping dad. That’s a legacy worth leaving.
Well, if any ladies survived this little bit of writing, my first thought was to explain that you could think of hardware stores as something like a fabric store, only not as soft. But to give the ladies credit, I know many of them that can really swing a hammer and my hat is off to them, too, as always.