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When I was a little girl, Saturdays generally consisted of two activity options. I could accompany my mother to the fabric store or I could tag along with my father to the home improvement warehouse. We were DIY-ers way before it was trendy. A trip to the fabric store was a chance to flip through the pattern books and, perhaps, persuade my mother to whip me up a new gingham blouse or pair of pink bell-bottoms. It was the 70s, after all. A trip to the hardware store offered fewer longterm personal rewards, but my father was an easy touch when it came to little treats. He could be counted on to buy me a hot dog from the stand outside the store or a candy bar in the checkout line, and he sometimes let me ride on his shoulders through the lumber aisle. The smell of fresh-cut wood still makes me feel tall.
The hardware store offered one other benefit that the fabric store never could. It had books. Sure, there were lots of home improvement books with plans for building a deck or laying tile, but they also had a small selection of crime novels, mysteries, hard-boiled detective series and, always, a few copies of Paul Harvey’s “The Rest of the Story.” While my father waited to check out with his rolling cart full of tools and batteries and saw blades, I flipped through the books. Over the course of a few months, I could finish a book in the time it took for him to check out. I could get through one of the Paul Harvey tales in a single trip and then amaze my friends by telling stories with a surprise twist ending! Okay, amaze might be too strong a word.
The presence of books in this place full of power tools, concrete and fertilizer, reinforced something I already knew: reading is not an activity with class boundaries. I think we tend to imagine readers as people with college degrees, unblemished hands, and lots of leisure time. I have always known that manly men who build iron structures for a living and then build their own houses for fun, also read books. My father has a friend who was like an uncle to me. This man was a truck driver all his life and I’ll never forget the conversation we had where he excitedly described his system for checking out and listening to books on tape as he traveled across the country. He loved his job because it allowed him to consume books at a rabid pace.
So I was disappointed to learn that Home Depot has decided to discontinue selling books. I get it. It doesn’t exactly fit their mission. It takes up space. Nowadays people can buy the books they want without ever leaving their home. Still, there is something about a display of books situated near a checkout stand in a place where you least expect it. You end up reading something you wouldn’t otherwise pick up and maybe you learn something new. At the very least, you kill a little time and have something to chat about with your father over that post-shopping trip hot dog. My sympathies to all the daughters and sons out there tagging along with fathers and mothers for weekend home improvement project supplies. It’s just not going to be as much fun anymore. Oh well.