Previously posted, this came to mind yesterday as I drove, again, through my hometown of Covington. And precious memories of Mr. John and Ms. Betty came flooding back…
John Thompson and his sweet wife Betty must’ve not minded clutter. And as a young girl, visits to their hardware store in our small town brought a sense of kinship. Clearly, they liked to collect things. They were kind and gentle, and they knew just where the right bolt could be found. The right tool for the job. The perfect seeds for particular soil and sunlight. Yes, the Thompsons were brilliant, and I loved them.
They sold a plethora of clocks, as well, and it was often in this somewhat musical section of their store that I could be found. I was fascinated with the telling of time in rhythmic fashion hanging from hooks on pegboards, and my sister and I – after a quick game of hide-and-seek, while mom browsed for gardening gloves or houseplant fertilizer – would stare at them in wonder. “Which one do you like best?” one of us would ask. And after the choice was made, it was the other’s turn. Sometimes the choice was mutual. And one time – I can only remember once! – Momma agreed and purchased the winner, and we took it home. Oh, what joy! It hung on our wall above the sink for years, faithfully declaring the hour and minute 24-7 – only taking Sabbath when its batteries began to fade. (I can’t say for certain, but I believe Daddy took extra time replacing them now and then, just to allow it some much deserved rest.)
Thompson’s hardware store on High Street – where time always seemed to stand still – has remained in my memory, though I moved from that small farming town many years ago. And every hardware store I’ve visited since has brought Mr. John and Ms. Betty’s faces to the forefront of my mind – with one step inside and that unique – What is it exactly? – olfactory blast that’s common in all nail-selling, buy-your-fishing-license-here establishment. I can almost hear the ticking of clock-covered wall. The creaking of time-worn hardwood floor.
Some years ago, I returned to my hometown to take part in my high school reunion. As I drove down the main street, I discovered that most of the old stores no longer remain – some of their spaces occupied instead by Subway, a tanning salon, and a video store. Sadly, it seemed that the slower paced nature of my childhood – where cell phones were yet obsolete and Atari Pac Man was just being introduced – had been invaded by a fast food, self-motivated, technologically-driven reality that I never attributed to my past, as quickly as the years have indeed flown.
Friends from Covington High School’s Class of 1988 gathered on the front steps of our school for pictures. Not a large group of us – several close friends, an exchange student from Holland who’d made the long journey, and – Surprise of surprises! – Mr. John Thompson. Though most of us had changed over twenty-five years – receding hairlines, stouter figures, and a few well-earned laugh lines – Mr. John, at 94, looked as dapper as ever. He was an honorary graduate – having dropped out of high school at fifteen to faithfully serve his country but later completed his studies to earn his diploma in 1988. No doubt, he’d traveled the farthest.
There he stood – this kind man who lived in some of my fondest memories – standing beside this Little Girl. And all time was erased.
*** Mr. John Thompson, at the age of 97, graduated to Heaven on February 16th, 2016. World War II veteran. Husband. Father. “GREAT” grandfather. Hardware store owner. Fellow 1988 high school graduate. But John was more than my classmate. He was my friend.