Thursday, April 15, 2010
The true harbingers of spring
Not a springtime dawns without my fondly revisiting memories of Grover C. Hughes.
I can't say I ever really knew Grover, although I might have seen him many times when I was a child. He operated a little farm supply store right next to the railroad tracks in my hometown; the store sat across the street from a big, red brick feed mill.
Grover Hughes's store was a fun place to visit anytime. He had a variety of gardening tools, I believe, and of course he sold seeds; all the merchandise was arranged rather tightly on shelves that ran along the walls of the place. My memories are fuzzy; I know that it always reminded me of an old general store from ages past, sort of dark inside, everything made of wood, and the whole place contained in a long, narrow room that ran the length of the first floor of the building it inhabited. Going there was a fun diversion any time of the year.
But the most delightful part of Grover's little shop arrived with the balmy winds of the vernal equinox: on that breeze came the spring chicks.
Grover's old building featured big, deep windows on either side of the entryway, his shop's display space if you will, and that is where he kept the chicks. Because the windows were so large and level with the sidewalk, a little kid could see right into them with ease. Climbing the steps into the store afforded an equally close view, and once inside? There was no barrier other than the foot-high wooden partition that held the newly hatched babies in safety.
We had a clear view into those front window compartments, even from our family car as we drove past, and each spring we would watch for the telltale fluffy yellow window-dwellers. Then, we'd park the car and hurry in to gawk and pet.
I think I recall a few little ducklings mixed in there, too. I can't remember if we ever bought any; I don't believe we did, although I'm certain my sisters and I begged relentlessly each new hatch season. It was enough, really, just to be that close: to hear the sweet peep-peep sound those tiny creatures issued forth, to pet a tiny fluffball, to watch the beady-eyed cuties scurry around their sunlit window home.
I'm sad to say that Grover's store has stood empty for many years now, that the feed mill across the street burned to the ground some time ago; the rebuilt structure is so stubby, plain, and functional, it doesn't hold a candle to the stalwart beauty that stood in its place when I was small. Things change. Fires happen. Store owners grow old and close their doors forever.
But I still steal a glance at Grover's empty windows with a spark of hope every time I drive by that place.