The two farmers went down like the river goes down, past fields and more fields of stunted crops and on into town to one of the last old time hardware stores for miles around, maybe towns around. And it matters. Like the rain matters. The rain that rises the river over its banks, that flows it down, swelling and groaning with the weight of the water and what it means to everything in and around the town and beyond, out to the mouth of itself with its fullness of good and bad to say, out to the sea, out to the different worlds that are in the sea, the chunks of land and the people on them.
And on this small chunk of land called central New York, the river left the farmers—them in their pick-ups and it in its bed—for just a few miles to go around town, to flow around the back of it past the lumber store, feed store, and on to the old brick turbine house sitting at the crest of the waterfall. The river had work to do. And the farmers had hooks and eye bolts, latches, hasps, barbed wire staples, insulators and a few cut nails to buy. They had talking to do, to deliberate on this year’s growing season and to talk about the river behind its back. Nothing bad, for the river’s giving more than it’s taking, but mostly to talk about the burden it carries, the burden of man.
They pulled up to the curb in front of the old hardware store, pulled up diagonally, which was the better way to do they thought. That way, folks who were no good at parallel parking could get in and out without all the scratching and denting and fussing and hassling. They moseyed around to the front of the truck and went on inside smiling and guffawing, knowing they’d be jawing and testing their know-how, and there’s nothing better’n huffing and puffing about what all you know, especially with Joe. Joe owned the place and he knew a lot, kept abreast of more things than a person ought to know and still be able to sleep at night without worrying about it all, so you had to be on your toes to know more than Joe.
The shop bell tinkled on the old screen door. Joe bellowed “Hello boys!” and on came those good old smells of the creaky wood floor, the oak cabinets, the paint layered on the old wooden paint shaker, the hardware and the hard-working people climbing the ceiling-high ladders that rolled past the shelves so they could get just the right sized screws and bolts and such. Little boys who couldn’t reach the first level of bins were walking down the aisles, their arms raised above their heads as high as they could go, and feeling with their fingers in each of the bins the different sizes of similar things. Anything you need is in there and that’s good to know, makes sitting out front on the store’s big, wide stone steps feel all the more secure.
“That good sweet corn gonna be late to the plate along with them tomatoes, ain’t they, boys?” Joe said sad and loud. The farmers wagged their heads from side to side, said probably no one in these parts is gonna see the best sweet corn out ‘til mid-August, and that’s if nothin’ bad happens, like more low temperatures. And them strawberries ain’t gonna be as sweet, nope, you need sun to make ‘em sweet and we ain’t had much of that this year. All that rain done slowed things down, all the lack of heat slowed down the development of the crops while the fungus was having a field day. We’re behind in growing and picking and all we can do is pray for heat and for the love of God to hold back an early frost. Joe put one arm around each farmer and they walked out somber to sit on the steps while Joe’s son Joe Jr. gathered up their supplies.
“You could see all that’s being lost but for the tears in your eyes,” Joe said as they sat down and had themselves some mint snuff chew. He pointed a way off by the curb to a beat up old baseball maybe some kid had lost, and said, “For instance, take a hammer and bust that old baseball up and see what comes out of it: maybe an old time crowd roaring, the women in nice dresses, the men in suits and fedoras, sitting in the house that Ruth built; maybe Red Barber coming over the airwaves bringing the game to our homes and cars so we can see the plays, smell the hotdogs, the cigar smoke, the beer; maybe Jackie Robinson’s greatest catch, the major leagues; or maybe advancing players by singles and doubles before homeruns and grand slams ruled, back when players and teams stayed around our big cities long enough to embody their culture, the hearts and minds of the folks there.”
The farmers and Joe were quiet for a time, pondering the sorry situation in the state, the country, the world, feeling the burden of the river and the sea and how Siberia may be the only fit place to live in a few years. Just when there seemed nothing left to do but to anticipate and brace for a scary future, the shop bell tinkled and Joe Jr. came out onto the steps. The men stood up to greet him properly and Joe Jr. held the bags of supplies out to the farmers, confident and unconcerned, smiled a mile wide. He winked and said to one, “I threw in a box of Tapcons for you to try. Didn’t charge you. Just you see if those new fangled fasteners don’t work better for you than the cut nails you got.” The farmer smiled and thanked the boy for his thoughtfulness, patted him on the shoulder. Joe looked at his kid, just sixteen and sharp as a tack, probably going to Cornell, and he patted the kid’s shoulder, too, felt a whole lot better about how things might turn out. The river’s got good men on its side. It’s got work to do.
Photo from website: http://ahps2.wrh.noaa.gov/images/ahps2/pih/anti1/anti1_henrysstanthony.jpg
Missalister’s “Clyde River Hardware,” copyright © 2009, was spun off the Sunday Scribblings prompt “#174 – Anticipate” Click here for more on prompt #174 from other Sunday Scribblings participants.