Friday, February 19, 2010

The Lumberyard

The Lumberyard

I moved home to Harlem and into my Dad’s house and stacked boxes to the ceiling in every room. The previous year I had made the decision to return to Harlem, hoping to spend more time with my Dad, but he passed away before I could make the move. In Washington I lived in an artist’s Pacific Northwest Style home. I moved back to Harlem to a well-built house which, to my eyes, had all the charm and style of a 1950’s double-wide. I had a vision of how I wanted the house to look.

“The house has good bones,” I said to my friend Kathy, from British Columbia, who helped me drive a truck-load of boxes and furniture. “It just needs a little cosmetic work to give it my personal touch.” I was thinking just some paint and some flooring. But you know how when you rip into a project--one thing leads to another. Kathy and I could do a lot of the work ourselves and we did. But we soon hit the place where we needed help.

The previous summer, as I was heading out of town and back across the mountains, I had seen a trailer with “Lawn Services” and a phone number hand painted on the side boards. I jotted down the number, and called once I arrived back in Washington, and hired Billy, sight unseen, to mow the lawn and keep the rag-weed down. So when I reached the place of needing help for some of the heavier work, I called Billy. “We need somebody to help with some simple remodeling,” I said.

There was a brief silence as Billy, on the other end of the phone, contemplated my use of the phrase ‘simple remodeling’. “Well, I do some of that,” he said. Thus began a long-term business arrangement which has turned into a friendship.

One day I said, “Oh, Billy. We need a double-hex dooley dunker. Shoot, I guess I’ll have to go to Havre to get it and that’s gonna take half a day. Dang. I hate stopping in the middle of a project.”

Billy replied, “Go to Charlie’s”

Now I knew the Lumberyard sat out there along Main Street at the edge of town, ringed by stacks of lumber and pallets of building materials. I had even gone in occasionally to buy bolts and screws and odd pieces of board. But I was used to shopping at the big box hardware stores, each an acre or more in size, with parking lots that take up a half-section of prime farm land, all within minutes of my house. When I was in Washington, I shopped for things I knew I would need for my Montana home and at bargain prices, I thought, and trucked them over the mountains on each trip. Foolish woman.

So I drove down to the Lumberyard, fearing this would be a waste of time. To my surprise, Charlie poked around on the shelves somewhere in back, and sure enough, held up just the right double-hex dooly dunker.

Remodeling took two years. Every time I went back to Charlie’s, the same thing happened. I finally realized that whatever I needed, even the jiggily-whumpus-serrated-end gouger, was somewhere in the bowels of the local store—the back room, the loft, outside, behind the seasonal display, bottom shelf, top shelf, somewhere--and at a price no higher than the super-sale-super-store and frequently less costly. Today I never bother to check anywhere else.

One day Billy said to me, “Your electric meter is falling off the side of your house and I’m not going to fix it. You need an electrician who can have the power shut off at the pole.”

Sighing, I headed for the Yellow Pages. I had already knew that this would be an exercise in futility. In this country everyone knows everyone else within a 200 mile radius, so why bother to advertise in the Directory. For a city person used to finding everything through the Yellow Pages, this was frustrating.

So, “Who do you recommend, Billy?”

“Call Charlie.”

This is how I discovered the Lumberyard is also an information clearinghouse. If Charlie didn’t know who to recommend, the guy standing at the counter waiting for his 1600 pounds of baling supplies to be loaded onto his truck, probably would know. And if he didn’t, he would ask someone else, until the problem was solved. Now, when I am stumped for an item or a person to fix it for me, I know what to do. I call the Lumberyard, right here my home town.

I might not find 32 brand names and styles of double-hex dooley dunkers, but I will no doubt find the tool to do the job, or somebody who knows how to make me one, and will meet the neighbors, catch up on the news and hear a funny story. Now try to find that in the big box super store.

Sondra Ashton
January 25, 2009

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