The real hardware store, although hard to find, is easy to recognize once found. There are certain criteria that must be met. For example, the real hardware store has a counter piled with all sorts of stuff not in blister paks but more-or-less for sale and the counter itself is full of gouges, humps and bumps, and other signs of stress. Needless to say the counter is a slab of wood whose corners and edges have all been worn away by generations of clerks plunking down on it five pounds of shingle nails or a replacement grate for a Queen Atlantic cookstove, cans of paint, axe handles, a couple of fathoms of chain or what-have-you.
Any real hardware store has bins, usually behind the counter, which hold all manner of nails and things. It is essential that a certain number of the contents of these bins spill over onto the floor over the years, where they remain to be trodden upon and gradually to become part of the texture of the wood floor itself.
It is also essential that the floor have mystic symbols painted upon it so that if someone comes in wanting forty feet of chain the said chain can be dragged clanking from its subterranean repose and laid out down the floor to the requisite length.
Then there is the matter of decor. For a store that sells painting supplies, your real hardware store is a little thin on decor. The very highest class of real hardware stores have a series of Remington hunting posters, saved from old calendars of years (and years) gone by, hung high up over the shelves or cabinets. I was quite concerned when the local real hardware store took down their antique Remington posters several years ago and began to paint the walls. Panic seized me. Fresh paint was just one step from blister paks. Fortunately it wasn't long before the Remington posters were back in their appointed places and the fresh paint took on the same weathered quality the old stuff had.
I've known a few stores like this in my day and cherish the experience of each of them. There was the one in Pennsylvania which was three stories high, with worn wooden floors that creaked and groaned when walked upon. This model of its kind had all its goods for sale in wooden bins - everything from rubber boots to plow shares to hay wire to faucet washers. If you could not find what you wanted you asked the proprietor who would disappear (there was more stuff "out back," or upstairs) and in a moment or two would return with several items of the sort you wanted in different sizes or styles or alignments, take your choice.
Alas this wonderful store disappeared after the death of its owner and sole proprietor and its like will not be seen again. What particularly distresses me about this demise is that I was elsewhere when the auction was held which dispersed a lifetime's careful collection of everything in the hardware line that a person might need (and not a blister pak in the lot). The building was taken over by what is known in Pennsylvania as a "beverage company" and later stood empty, its emptiness corresponding nicely to the emptiness in my heart when I think of the treasures it once held.
It seems John Gould (the chap in Maine) was looking for canoe tacks and a cross-peen hammer and the local purveyors of blister paks had never heard of either and were not interested in finding out whether they were available. It seemed to me a fair test.
Accordingly, one fine morning in Spring a while back, I went into my local hardware store. The son of the proprietor was behind the counter when I arrived. "Don," I said, after the preliminaries had been duly attended to, the state of the weather commented upon, and a hush having fallen, "Don, I'm looking for canoe tacks and a cross-peen hammer."
People who study these things tell us that North Americans cannot stand a pause in the conversation which lasts more than about four seconds. I had made my request and we were into about three and a half seconds of complete silence and I was getting a mite edgy, not knowing whether I had touched a sore point or had not been heard. Don blinked once, so I knew he was still there. Then he spoke. "How long do you want your canoe tacks?"
Score one for our side. Another silence ensued. Then the oracle spoke once more. "I don't have a cross-peen hammer but I could get you one by next Wednesday."
Now there's a hardware store worth cherishing. And there was no mention of blister paks. I should really write John Gould and tell him.
P.S. Not long before Christmas my wife was in Moffetts looking for Christmas-tree lights. Along with the lights, Don handed my wife a heavy object wrapped in brown paper. “It’s for Lee - for Christmas.” If you want to know what a cross-peen hammer looks like, stop by. I’ve got a fine one.
Words & Images
We moved to our farm in Sussex, New Brunswick from Toronto in 1977, only moving away in 2014.