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The Brant Hardware and Implement Company, by Jeanne Locke Johnson

I taught a day long journal and sketchbook class recently, at the Interlochen College of Creative Arts in northern Michigan. One of the activities was called Writing in Place, devised by my writerwife Patricia Ann McNair. A participant in the class, Jeanne, wrote the piece I'm reprinting below. As soon as she began reading it back in the class, I knew straight away I was hearing a really good piece of writing. The image was also by Jeanne, made in the collage class the day before the journal and sketchbook class.



I

I remember going to the Hardware after school. The bus dropped us off at the house. If I was feeling the need to make money, or Dad needed work done, I walked to the store. If Mom or Dad were in sight, I checked in while clocking in on the old time clock punch card. Usually, I needed to dust displays or clean the bathrooms, or wash windows. My favorite was filling the old pop machine. I had to get the keys, check inventory for flavors, empty the change bucket, clean the glass. Then I got out the dolly, went under the stairs to select my favorite flavors to refill the machine with.

My brother was working the parts counter. If he was really busy, I would sometimes look up parts numbers for him or grab the parts for him to sell. “Need a blade for the cultivator”, he would say, and I knew which to grab. At the end of the day, I would retrieve the parts list order from Junior, the shop manager. I compiled it with the list from my brother. Then I had to enter it into the machine after dialing John Deere. There would be a series of long and short screeches and blips to send the order in. I would wander back to the shop to see the guys punch out for the day, cigarette smoke filling the air, on top of the greasy dirt smell. The big garage doors would be lowered, the lights in the shop office turned off, no longer showing all the dirt on the window sills, nor the smoke filmed office glass. The trucks and rat cars would start up, one by one, with their loud engines and mufflers needing to be replaced. Mom and Dad already had driven home; my brother too.  I walked.  Past the old brick building smelling of gasoline a couple guys had just used to clean their hands with.

II

In the summer, it was my responsibility to cut grass and paint buildings as needed. One summer, I was home from college recovering from mono. But the painting needed to begin. I went to the old brick building and retrieved the twenty foot wood rung extension ladder. I was hauling it out to the next building by myself. One of Dad’s newer hires was a very mouthy, unmotivated guy who liked to pick on me. I remember telling him, “If you worked as much as you run your mouth, you could get a lot of work done around here”. One of the parts guys Terry, saw me with the ladder and grabbed an end to help move it. Even though I said I could do it, I did appreciated the assistance. By the end of the summer, I had convinced my Dad that the mouthy guy needed to be fired. Painting on the top of that ladder in ninety degree heat was rough. Even with my Red Wing steel toe boots on, my feet were sore. In the peak of the old steel building, a fresh batch of spiders hatched out, and a bunch were hanging off the bill of my hat. I took a swoop with my freshly filled paintbrush and spread them on the building peak. There are probably still there today. Terry went on to become high school principal. Never heard what happened to the guy Dad fired.  And don’t care. 

III

Another weekend day in Brant. Another day sorting through all the physical collections that remained in my parents’ house. Two to three hours in the morning, then it’s time for lunch. My sisters, brother and I decide we need some fresh air, to escape the smell of the thousands of dryer sheets Mom had tucked EVERYWHERE, to keep the bugs and mice away, because she saw it on some forwarded email from my aunt, so it must be true. We decided to walk to the corner bar for lunch. Past the cannon Dad put in the front yard next to the flag, pointed at the neighbors, because he didn’t like them that much. Over the wet grass. Past the neighbor’s house that once belonged to my grandparents, past the vacant Methodist church where we went to community dinners and showers, past the former hardware where a custom canvas company now resides. We pause, and try to look in the windows. First of of the old brick building. So much dirt and grime is caked on the windows, but we manage to see it is still a dumping place of miscellaneous and still smells of greasy, dirty gas. Then we try to peek in the hardware, but they had put another inside entrance and turned the big space that was once a toy and tool showroom into office cubicles. The outside windows were covered, but we were still walking on white gravel that my parents put in. And their sidewalk. And their parking lot. And we decide it’s time for that beer and the Brant Bar burger special. The owner knows us by now.  Every weekend sorting; every weekend Brant Bar lunch break. The smell of greasy fries and bar grill burgers; the weird reality TV shows on. Good fresh cooked food.  Comfort food. Necessary estate discussions; small talk. Walking out the side door, we see the John Deere weather vane on top of the hall.

Dad is still there.

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