Just to See

On Tuesday I drive to P&R Lumber to pick up a few sticks of lumber, along my way passing through the small town of Hardwick, which on this stone-grey day is even quieter than usual. I’ve been going to P&R since I was a teen, back when my friend Trevor and I had an odd jobs business we called Troglodyte Construction, which we operated out of whatever decrepit rig was most road worthy at any given moment. There was a ’71 VW Bug, a similar vintage VW van, a ’79 Cadillac, a mid-70’s Buick LeSabre I called Putris, and a handful of others that escape memory. Trevor was a good builder, particularly for a 16-year-old; I mostly rode on his coattails and tried not to screw up anything too awful bad. We listened to a lot of Van Halen on cassette tapes (Panama! Hot For Teacher! Ain’t Talking ‘Bout Love!) and thought we were cool. Maybe we were.

(I feel like I must’ve written about all this before… but, anyway…)

I like going to P&R. It’s a sawmill and a lumberyard, so there’s always noise and motion – the constant whine of the mill, and the back-and-forth of the front loader moving logs and lumber. The smell is amazing – fresh cut hemlock and spruce, the diesel exhaust of the loader – and I like driving past the towering piles of logs to the towering piles of lumber, where I’ll load what I need and write it down on a scrap of paper with the old stub of pencil I keep in the truck for precisely this purpose, and then pay in the little office where pretty much no one wears a mask nor has since this whole shitshow started. Not saying that’s good or bad; it just is. The office walls are covered with old logging photos and postcards of thanks people have sent and sayings like the one that reads “we shoot every third salesman. And the second one just left.” There’s another about taxes, but I can’t remember quite what it says, though I’m fairly certain it’s not pro-taxation, if you know what I mean.

When I go to pay with my little scrap of paper in hand, there’s a scrawled note on the counter that says “out in the mill,” but just as I’m about to head out to the mill, Aaron comes through the door and takes my money. At least I think his name’s Aaron; I don’t know him the way I know Ben, who’s run the place since his father and uncle passed on, and who’s about my age and who’s now been selling me lumber for 30 years or more. I’m a little bummed not to see him today; we always catch up a bit, ask after one another’s families and so on. And to tell you the truth, if there’s anything I’m needing right now, it’s catching up a bit with someone I’ve known for as long as I’ve been legal to drive, if only the way I know Ben, at just enough of a distance to have a sense of his character and mannerisms, but not a whole lot more. Which is actually a pretty good way to know someone, come to think of it.

With Aaron it’s just “thanks” and “have a good day,” and I’m back on my way, back past those 1500 guns and the dump truck and trailer (hood still up, no sign of the man I saw before), back through the under-populated heart of town, and to home, where I stoke the wood stove to make coffee and where, thanks to the miracle of modern technology, my favorite Van Halen song is but a few clicks away.

Later in the day, when I drive in the opposite direction on yet another errand, I find that someone has carefully situated a fully intact gingerbread house at the apex of a roadside snowbank, and though I don’t claim it – don’t even snag a Hersey’s Kiss or three – I’m delighted simply by its presence and am already planning to come this way again tomorrow. You know, just to see if it’s still there.

Holy smokes, this blog has somehow survived another year. Thank you all so much for reading and commenting. It means a lot.

31 thoughts on “Just to See”

  1. may there be as many kisses, Hershey and other, in 2022 for you, my friend. Thanks for just being who you are and sharing these glimpses of life with us so brilliantly. Really!

  2. Ben, thanks for providing some of the very best reading material. Happy New Year. Best to Penny, the boys, and you. Bruce

    Sent from my iPad


  3. Ah! I love the smells and thrum of lumber yards, foundries, and all the assorted workshops too…is there even one word to describe this particular atmosphere?

  4. Hi Ben. I hope you are doing well. Small local sawmills are wonderful places. The sound and smell are unforgettable. You often meet people there who have worked the mill 50+ years. These sawmills are fading away from our landscape, and they will be missed. It’s sad when you think about it..

  5. We just picked up a couple of pallets of scraps from our local lumber mill. We split the scraps up for kindling. This errand never takes long enough as I could stand there and smell the fresh sawed wood all day long. Like burning leaves, it’s a scent that instantly reminds you of particular places and people. Thanks for the reminder.
    Wishing you and your clan the happiest of New Years!

  6. Hi Ben. Totally enjoyed this post!!! Last one of the year?

    Brought to mind the van I bought in the mid-70’s. Used for billions of miles by New England Telephone before I paid $75 for it. It was Army Green. It had 6 doors that rattled so much when driven, even on smoothly paved roads, that I couldn’t hear myself think. Not that I ever thought much. Never forget the day the brakes failed! A couple of days later I got a promotion and a company truck. Adios S-box telephone van!

    Happy New Year! Look forward to your 2022 posts and thanks for this one and its’ photo!

    1. Yeah, looking like the last of the year, unlessI get real inspired in the next few hours. Thanks for reading, Tom. I once had a VW I paid $75 for, too.

  7. Ben, Thank you for living with your eyes open and for so perfectly capturing what you experience with words. I’m grateful for your willingness to share your gift and look forward to the next post. Hope the new year brings more opportunities to catch up with people you know.

  8. Places like that lumberyard make me feel super comfortable, and people like that guy who owns it, even more comfortable. There are some shreds of humanity left out there….who haven’t been turned into plastic…and I bet you the wood isn’t shit either, like at Lowes, where you’re digging through the entire pile just to find a straight board, and the employees don’t talk to you like they are robots. I have one friend who still lives in that world, and when I was driving home today from a milk run I saw him pulling out of his driveway and I waved….and I felt better about things. Your post also reminded me of when Van Halen played at Pine Knob in Clarkston, MI…and I was heading to the parking lot after a night of selling beer to drunks (excellent job: laugh at drunks, get tips, see live music) to wait for my friends. Dear god if they didn’t break out with “Eruption” just as I was all alone in a sea of cars on a warm summer night. I sat on a little hill and listened….it was fucking magic.Eruption always stops me in my tracks after that experience:} Oh, and thanks for the writing, it makes me feel less lonely in this world.

    1. Thanks, Tricia. Having people like you reading and commenting makes me feel a little less lonely in the world, too.

  9. Thanks to your writing, it almost seems like I know you like you know Ben, if that’s even possible at all.
    I don’t think I’ve ever not read one of your posts. It’s been so long, it’s blurry to recall how it all began in the first place. Ha, ‘how it all began in the first place’ even sounds like a title you might choose.
    I even remember being amazed that you built the holes in your walls to custom fit the windows you somehow scored for cheap or next to nothing. To me, that seemed like defying gravity at the time. I’ve tried to up my DIY game over the past decade, though no where near your level yet!

    1. haha. Well, my DIY game has plenty of room for improvement, but I do have a pretty good eye for used windows. Thanks for reading.

  10. Hi Ben – Hope you and the family are having a wonderful holiday season this year. The boys are at that age where who knows what each year will bring – as it now is with Ken’s boys.

    One of the things I will miss most is all the ‘running into and catching up with’ friends there now that my little place has changed hands. I will still see folks, just not as often – but then it hasn’t been as often since the shot show started.

    Everything has its time, I suppose. But I am grateful for getting to know so many and especially folks like you and Penny.

    Will see you around if the fate means us to, but have a good 2022 til then!

    As always – Wendy

    Sent from my iPhone


  11. This blog is one of my favorite spaces in the whole world wide web. Thanks for continuing to share Ben! Rural Vermont doesn’t seem all that different than rural West Virginia. Except for the snow. We finally got about an inch of it today. Otherwise it’s been rainy and strangely warm. Took our annual plunge in the New River on New Year’s Day after a hike along Glade Creek (everything’s running). Doubt it was as cold as your pond must be right now! Still enjoying our Birch bark tree topper and ornaments made by Penny! Although the goats would be happy if I got around to taking the tree down. Happy 2022 to you all!

  12. 1,500 guns?

    I used to go to Rite-Way Sports when I wanted to look at guns in Hardwick.

    Not much snow here in Nebraska. I’m going to go anterless whitetail hunting if the weather stays cold enough to keep the ground frozen nard enought for me to drive over cut bean and corn fields without sinking in. I’m too old to drag a deer very far, particularly when it doesn’t have a set of antlers worthy of a trip to the taxidermist.

    ‘Hope that you and your family are all well in body and in mind. I heard from my friend in Randolph told me that COVID is flying through NH and VT, getting both the vaxed and unvaxed.

  13. Ben, I just finished reading your book “The Town that Food Saved”. Great book, very hopeful. So what’s happened to Hardwick and all of the locals that you wrote about twelve years ago? How did things turn out? I imagine the answer is longer than a blog post. Have there been any followup articles? Or a followup book brewing? Thanks for your great writing.

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