In our recent move, which involved lots of painting and fixing up things, I had to make a few trips to many different hardware stores. Usually such ventures are Tom’s domain but I volunteered to pick up a thing or two just for the sheer pleasure of seeing fresh glistening chrome bathroom fixtures and rows of shiny sinks.
One day Anna and I were out trying to find new plates to cover old electrical outlets and light switches. Years of neglect, sloppy paint jobs, discoloration from aging and collective grime had made the plates in both houses homely. What we thought would be simple turned out to be challenging. Recently a new type of electrical socket and light switch had flooded the market and the old out-dated kind, like ours, had disappeared. After several fruitless stops we decided to try just one more store. That’s when things began to look up.
When we stated what we needed, a friendly alert clerk expressed doubt about if he had any but he would look anyway. While Anna and I waited I noticed a customer at the counter enjoying a bowl of soup to our right. It was 10 o’clock in the morning. An attentive young female clerk observed our interest and offered us a bowl. Although it smelled and looked inviting we declined. Christian music played in the background and the workers all appeared busy and pleasant. When the man came back to tell me that he could only find one of the old kind I couldn’t hide my disappointment. I had been so expectant. When I explained that I did not really want the whole socket or light switch but just about 20 plates he looked optimistic and disappeared into the back room again but this time with a helper. Anna and I waited again and the young women returned to offer us a cup of cold guava juice, which we eagerly accepted. Another customer sat down on a stool to our left and took advantage of the soup, as if it was his daily ritual. People were greeted like old friends. This was a very different kind of store.
The clerks returned triumphantly and laid a pile of plastic plates of different sizes and uses before me. They were not new, but were newer than ours. They were not in packages either so I wondered where they had gotten them. During this process of deciding which to take or leave the courteous female clerk returned with a special cleaning paste. She showed us how to clean our old plates if we decided to just keep them. The paste was miraculous so I made a mental note to not leave without one of those small tubs. But we had some broken plates and some beyond hope of cleaning so I sorted through the pile to find the ones we needed. Now we began to haggle for a reasonable price. I ended up putting some aside because I thought they were asking too much for the not-so-new plates. After all of their work and effort I was sorry that I had to leave some behind. It was on my way to the cashier that Anna told me that some of the plates I had put back were ones that were really needed because our old ones were damaged beyond use. I hardly felt like opening up the negotiations again but if we needed them I would have to buy them. I went back sheepishly to the clerk and told him I would need some of the others. He smiled kindly and said, “I already put them in your bag, at no charge.” This certainly was a different kind of store.
I have visited other hardware stores and I have not gotten this kind of over-and-above treatment, but I still love the possibilities that come from a hardware store. New paint makes dingy walls look fresh, cement fills ugly gaping holes, new pipes fix expensive leaks, and a new tool mends what was broken. Being such broken people as we are, living in such a broken world we are in constant need of repairs. May be that is why I like hardware stores so much. They are such a parable of promise to me. Brokenness can be healed, ugliness can be transformed, and what is tired and worn can be renewed, if we allow the grace of Jesus to flow. He specializes in renovations.