There is one place in our little town that holds a whole lot of memories for me, and for so many of my oldest friends. If Dad needed a specific piece of hardware, or if Mom woke up with the big idea of changing a paint color in one of the rooms in our old house, we headed for Bodager Hardware.
Sitting in the square of Jeromesville, it drew in everyone we knew. And those who did the work within those walls were like family to us all.
“Ask Denny Austen,” Dad would often say. “He fixed me up with that same bolt awhile back, and I wouldn’t be surprised he will know exactly what you’re talking about.”
And sure enough, Denny would nod his head and jog down the steps to the basement of that old building.
“That was a special order, and I had a feeling Stan might need another one someday. I put it in a special spot so it didn’t get lost,” I remember him saying with a grin.
Austen, who had grown up in our town, seemed to have a running computer in his head, able to keep track of so many people and their individual business and farm needs. And he did it all with a jovial presence unlike anyone else I’ve ever known.
“Glad to help,” he would say, and we knew he really meant it.
He made light of the fact he had just saved the day for someone, and hoped to help the next friend coming in the door behind us.
When we returned to the farm with the heavy-duty bolt, Dad said, “Man, that Denny Austen sure is a good fella. We couldn’t farm without him!”
Dale and Clara Bodager owned and operated the hardware store and lived above it when I was a kid. I thought their apartment was the lofty penthouse that movies spoke of, because I could look out their picture window and watch the traffic light change.
I had never seen anything bigger or better, and I figured they were the rich and powerful because of what seemed like a high-rise apartment to me.
While our parents visited with Dale and Clara, we watched their amazing color TV and snacked on foods much fancier than our normal fare. It was heavenly.
Bodager Hardware really was the center of the town in more ways than I can begin to describe. I remember getting dressed up and going there to get family pictures taken by Olan Mills, to be sent in Christmas cards to friends and family by our parents.
We shopped for school clothes and shoes there, and dreamed of buying the newest shiny objects among the toys and jewelry that Clara put on display.
“Look! It’s an 8-ball! You shake it, ask it a question and it will tell you anything you need to know!” my sister explained while shopping among the toys.
I wanted one in the worst way, putting that little life predictor on my wish list, dropping dozens of hints, and hoping Clara would convince our mom to get it for me. We knew better than to expect the unnecessary, and were always excited for the necessities, like new shoes.
Close to home
Whenever possible, my parents did all their business in our small hometown. Because of that, I can still remember the weight of pushing through that heavy front door, the scent inside those walls, the places the floor dipped.
Every single person who worked there was kind and helpful, quick to smile and ask what was new. We could always add to the running tab; there was mutual trust and respect.
Bodager Hardware remains entwined in so many childhood memories, filled with the good people who walked that hardwood floor more hours than can be counted, helping a community thrive and survive.
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