Tuesday, March 18, 2008

What Fer Ye?

What fer ye?" the man behind the counter called out back in '75, as we walked into the old hardware store, looking for the bits and pieces that would help us put together our new life on a mountain farm.
There were horse collars and hames, butter molds and milk buckets, horse shoes and horse shoe nails, plow handles and plow points, hoof files and nippers, wood stoves and paint and lard cans -- and mattresses and furniture upstairs. There were seeds and sprays and sprockets, chains and chimney pipe and the Gem Dandy electric churn that became a fixture in my kitchen.

Before the new road opened, making travel to Asheville so easy, Bowman's was the place to go for your hardware needs. There was advice for the asking and there was a wiry little old man who would climb like a spider monkey up the shelves on one wall to fetch down items. Your smaller purchases were wrapped in brown paper and tied with string -- no flimsy plastic bags here! Prices were clearly marked on each item but above the dollars and cents price was a code -- probably the wholesale value – that allowed the staff to know how much latitude they had in dickering with their long-time native-born customers – most of whom ignored the sticker price and opened negotiations with "What'll ye take fer that?"

Our little county seat, the inspiration for Elizabeth's Ransom, is metamorphosing into -- well, I'm not sure exactly what. Long gone are the family-owned drug store, the dime store, the grocery store, even the funeral home. One bank has moved -- one remains. A coffee shop, a taqueria, a computer store, an organic foods store and an assortment of gift shops and galleries have come into being.But the old hardware store endures, with its wood stove in the center where A.J. is keeping warm on a cold day. (A.J., I might tell you, is a dancin' fool -- can dance down 'most all comers on Friday nights at the Depot. And he does a great impersonation of a Soggy Bottom Boy a la O Brother, Where Art Thou? But that’s another story.)

The third picture, taken at the back of the store, is just where I imagined a scene in Art’s Blood: “There had been the occasional encounter in Ransom, the nearby county seat, a somnolent country town that had only recently attained its second stoplight. She’d seen her neighbors most recently in the hardware store where she was purchasing hinges to repair a sagging screen door. All three were gathered around a metal bin, evidently assessing the artistic potential of a mass of nails.”

In the old hardware store the floors are still wooden; merchandise still hangs from the walls. You can buy a wood-burning cook stove like the one in the foreground or an aluminum dish pan or a blue striped gray crock to put down your kraut. There's paint, fishing tackle, guns, ammo, crockery, or a funky cricket fashioned by A.J.’s son from an old pipe wrench, a couple of bolts, and some steel rod bent into legs. And, if you’re lucky, you can still get advice.

What fer ye?
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Pat in TN said...

It's been years since I've been to Bowman's, but way back when we moved to Madison Co. and started up our farm, it was 'the' place to go. I still remember the squeaky wooden floors, all the the stuff they had jammed in there (I could easily spend a greater part of a day just looking around), and the kindness of everyone who was more then willing to help.

Vicki Lane said...

I really hope they can hang on -- it's can't be easy with Lowes and Ace and all the the big boxes getting ever closer.