(Written around midnight Thursday, June 3, 2010.)
I am no physicist, but I think I have figured out a method of time travel.
Deb and I went to Knoblocks Hardware the other day, to shop for knobs for “my mom’s” bookcases, which have been ours for years, waiting patiently for us to refinish them. Deb took the bull by the paintbrush and made the old things beautiful. We wanted to find knobs to add a touch of uniqueness and that my mom would have appreciated. So, on the recommendation of Tompkins Hardware, we were off to knoblocks.
I had barely taken two steps into the place when I stopped in my tracks to inhale deeply.
At that moment, I was back at Big Joe’s hardware store, walking into the front door. I was getting my very first lesson on how to run a business: Me, “why do you put things on sale?” Big Joe, “to make things cost less so people can buy them.” Me, “so, where do you get all this stuff?” Big Joe, “I buy it, then I sell it to other people who need it.” Me, “so, you help people out by selling them stuff for less than you paid for it, that’s so nice of you to help people like that.” (I was obviously totally convinced that his selfless generosity toward me spilled over to his generosity to the world.) Big Joe, laughing, “no, I sell it for more. I have to pay the bills.” Me, still puzzled, but trusting in Joe’s generosity anyway, “oh. Can I buy something?”
Then, I was back at Knoblock’s in Flint, grinning and saying to Deb, “THIS is what a hardware store is supposed to smell like!” We lingered at the store, looking at everything: knobs, pieces of welding steel, beautifully colored arrow fletching, beeswax, replacement shovel handles, screws, fertilizer, wooden dowels, potato chips, shelves and shelves of ordering catalogues (behind the counter), and a sign noting that they specially make bows and arrows for hunting. Hardware stores like Knoblocks, or my other contemporary favorite, Tompkins, bring smiles to my face and the same anticipatory alertness that I feel when I walk into a bookstore or a fabric shop. I never know what treasures await- a new blender to replace my broken one? A garden torch? Canopied chairs in which to park my butt while I watch concerts at the upcoming Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival? I get as excited as a kid in a hardware store- I mean, in a candy store.
Although Savard’s Hardware, Big Joe’s store, has long been closed, I will always associate small family owned hardware stores with love and laughter and adventure.
As summer camping season begins, it is more than fitting that Big Joe is in my heart and on my mind. The Savard family and our family had a tradition of camping together. I believe that I was with that gang when I first discovered tent worms. They were such beautiful fuzzy caterpillars. On this particular trip, I collected as many as I could find and put them on the roof and sides of our tent. My mom couldn’t figure out why our tent was crawling with them. When she caught me relocating them, she asked me why on Earth I was doing that. I replied that they were supposed to be there because they ARE, after all, tent worms. Like the whole belly button thing, mom had to explain once again a fact of life that I had misunderstood. She explained that they are called tent worms because they make their own tents and kill trees. For a long time, I didn’t want to believe that my beautiful tent worms would kill my beloved trees.
When our families camped together, there was always fun to be had: eating mom’s half raw yet burned gooey mess of camp pancakes, walks in the woods, learning to squat in the woods without peeing on my feet, campfires, building a homemade sundial, singing, and stories, lots of stories. My favorite seat at the camp fire was always on Big Joe’s lap. (Little Joe is my brother-in-law. We just call both of them Joe now, they know who they are.) Big Joe assigned us all camp names. Mom was “Queen of the Road” because she always drove a big van full of noisy kids and she often found shortcuts to our destinations, usually making the van ride about three times as long. She would say we weren’t lost, we were having an adventure! (I get my sense of direction from the Queen of the Road.) My sister, Annette, was “Princess Blue Eyes” because she has the most beautiful blue eyes and long eyelashes that I’ve ever seen. And, my camp name that was bestowed by Big Joe was “Princess Boney Butt,” because his leg would be sore from my butt bones digging into his thighs as I adamantly asserted that no, I wouldn’t rather sit on a log or in a chair. Of course now, my name would probably be “Princess Wide but Boney Butt.” And now, I would much prefer a chair- perhaps one with its own canopy. I can’t remember anyone else’s camp names. I’d love to hear in the comment section, what camp names people have had, whether Big Joe bestowed them, or your Girl Scout counselor or your great aunt Hilda.
Today, Knoblocks called to say that our knobs are in. I pulled the message off of our voicemail when I came in from the rain to make wooden markers for the Anaheim and Sweet Bell peppers I was getting ready to plant.
Deb and I worked and played and laughed in the garden for five and a half hours today. About four of those hours were in the rain. We had mud in our hair, between our toes and in our belly buttons. The weeds were willing to let go of their tenacious holds on the Earth with a little help from the rain and Deb’s hard work with “the garden claw”. Then I carted their not so little corpses to the compost. Then, I got to do my favorite part- I got to start putting plants in the ground, or, rather, the mud. By the time I was done planting two and a half twelve foot long beds, I did not have one more place to wipe the caked mud from my hands. I’d already used my pant legs, my big boney butt’s pants, the front of my shirt, the sleeves of my shirt, and, finally, I wiped my hands on my face, then impishly held out my hands as if with a bowl, and said in fake Cockney accent, “Please sir, may I have some more?”
At the point where the mud and cold and rain had us ready to turn in our tools, the rain stopped and the sun came out and the damp soil took almost no time to get warm to the touch. Along with the emergence of the sun, came the emergence of our new neighbor kid, Steven. He popped his head over the fence and said, “can I help?” Of course, I wasn’t going to stop then, with free labor at stake, despite my hunger. He happily took over my job of toting weeds to the compost pile as I finished hand sifting through my third bed, picking out tiny tendrils of old roots. Steven was surprised when I told him I’d seen a couple different kinds of beetles in the soil and melodramatic when I told him that what is now dirt was once horse manure. He seemed interested to learn that earthworms help plow our garden and that the soil is full of life when chemical fertilizers are avoided. He very conscientiously dug a nice deep hole for his first roma tomato plant and laughed in delight when I told him that we just planted some spaghetti sauce. I sent him home with a big bunch of tall, muddy green onions that he helped to pull. He seemed proud as he headed home and the tools were put back in the shed.
As I reflect on my time with Steven, I realize that in some ways, I have become my mother. I don’t have eleven kids of my own or a nursing career, or a husband, nor did she have a wife. But I could almost hear her speaking through me while I reached down and pinched off a leaf of sage for Steven to smell. I imagined how she felt while teaching me how to plant tomatoes as a kid, even if I did omit the lump of horse poop in the hole that she used to have me put in.
So, this week, I have figured out that I can travel through time using the magic of smell or the joy of getting my hands so filthy, I’m not sure if they’ll ever be clean. Except that the rain and the soil and the kid, and the smells and the laughter and the good memories all work together to scrub my mind clean of negativity. I wonder if I can apply for a patent for “mental exfoliating scrub,” made with stuff that once came out of a horse’s butt, available in Jasmine or hardware store scent.