A Lifetime Supply of Hardware

by Nola

When the call came, I thought it was just an odd question needing an answer. So I hit “Ignore” to answer once I was back from lunch. Then my phone beeped and I had a text message alerting me I’d been paged.

“Someone’s died,” I said. And I knew I was right. So I called the hardware store expecting to get Ernie. Lesa answered, and my heart sank. “You haven’t heard, then?” she asked. “Oh, no,” I sighed, “when?” “Last month,” she answered. “So I missed the funeral.” And I swallowed back tears.

It was Ernie who had died. He had seemed immortal, and this news hit me like a kick in the gut. Ernie was my first boss, my brother’s first boss, and my other brother’s first boss too, and the first boss of half my old neighborhood. Ernie told hunting stories and country stories and had a saying for everything.

“Variety is the spice of life,” he’d exclaim when I complained of boyfriend trouble.

“Don’t hoot with the owls at night if you can’t soar with the eagles in the morning,” he’d bleat when I arrived a minute before opening with bags under my eyes.

But when my boyfriend proved to me to be the loser Ernie knew him to be the minute he laid eyes on him, his kindness was palpable. And when I still stuck with the loser because I believed “love conquers all,” Ernie hugged me and allowed me my mistake. And when I needed $5 for gas because the loser lied and “borrowed” my car all night and left me literally on fumes, Ernie didn’t ask a single question. He could read it on the lines of my brow as he handed me a $10.

Eventually, and while still working at the hardware store, I did dump the loser. It was one of the hardest lessons I ever learned: Love is not all you need. But there were upsides to dating the  loser. It has keep me drug free for my life.  And it made me more independent. And all this made Ernie proud of me. Which was another upside.

After four years, I left the hardware store. It’d take me 15 years to stay at a job that long (and more) again.

I’ve never forgotten Ernie. His kindness. His generous spirit. His quiet fatherly love. His pride in his employees leaving him to accomplish bigger and better things.

The years I worked at Ernie’s store equipped me with the hardware I needed to face the world on my terms, without needing to imagine it ending solely as being the supporting role in any man’s life. I’ve used the tools I picked up there well. And I am a better person for having had Ernie in my life. And I will miss him for the rest of my days.

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