My dad was the quintessential "fixer-upper." He would always take me on his weekly treks to "the guy store," as he put it, to buy supplies. It was the kind of place where you went as is. No need to change your shirt. "The messier, the better," dad would say as he hurried me into the car.
Today, long after my father has passed away, I am still drawn to the neighborhood hardware store. Every so often, I have to get my fix. When I open the door to the cornucopia of fixtures and faucets, sawdust and sawhorses, lumber and lock sets, the smell permeates my every pore.
I have often set out to run errands, none of which included stopping at a hardware store, and without even realizing it my car would automatically pull into the parking lot and potential projects would pop into my head.
There is almost nothing that compares to the rush I get when I take that first step into a metal and wood-laden environment. I'll stand at the threshold and take a deep breath as I relish the scents of steel, paint, fertilizers and fresh-cut planks of wood stacked up on wide-aisle floors.
As I walk through the store, the array of nails, bolts, washers, nuts and screws in every shape and size occupying metal mesh bins is dizzying. Huge cylindrical steel rods that crowd each other lying helter-skelter call to me. I place several in my hand and roll them back and forth between my palms. Their smell, somewhat rusty, transforms to a taste in my mouth.
My experience is briefly interrupted as I sense movement and lingering paint fumes behind me. A man wearing coveralls speckled with white splats, with rags haphazardly shoved in his back pockets hanging on for dear life, curiously looks my way before turning a corner. I smile at him as I watch his child run to keep up and I let the heavy rods roll out of my hand and into the piled bin. I wonder what marvelous project awaits that man and his child.
I try to be inconspicuous as I stroll through the store thinking about dad and his never-ending projects, but invariably apron-clad men with the store's logo brightly stitched on their shirts surround me like a swarm of bees.
"I appreciate it but I don't need any help," I say. "I just need a few light bulbs and a furnace filter."
However, my attempt fails miserably, as three sales associates insist on escorting me to the appropriate aisles. After thanking them and stating, "I'll just browse a while longer," they look at me as if they have encountered a strange species: A woman in a hardware store enjoying herself.
I walk down a few more aisles, stopping by the wallpaper section and reminiscing about the time mom said wallpapering my room would be too expensive. Dad took matters into his own hands and bartered with the store manager to bring the price down on some discontinued paper. It really didn't matter that the pattern was purple spacemen and shooting orange stars. I only felt the care and love that went into the project.
I slowly head for the registers. I decide to pay for my purchases while still feeling the intoxication of my visit as well as the memories of my father. You can color me happy -- with paintbrush and paint from the neighborhood hardware store, of course.
LINDA FEIST lives in Hamburg.