Finding Hope in the Paint Department of Home Depot

There hasn’t seemed to be much in the way of redemption these days. Or hope. Or belief that somehow, in the end, we’ll make our way out of this morass we’ve found ourselves in. Margaret and Helen have all but fallen silent, and Molly Ivins is somewhere beyond our reach of whatever pearls she has to offer. The news is grim, and humans, as a species, seem bent on destroying themselves and the planet as we pillage and plunder our way though our allotted time…at least the ones who make the news. Murder and mayhem is the order of the day, reinforcing every harrowing thought we have about what we’ve become. Or them. It’s a sad planet out there, and everyone seems very angry about it. I know I’ve been.

But yesterday I saw Hope. I felt it. I was engulfed in it.

I struck out late in the afternoon to be responsible and run my errands, even in 5:00 traffic, so that I would have an unencumbered day to putter amongst my many projects today. It’s hot this year, and tempers and attitudes are shortened and sharpened, and I almost dreaded any encounters. There must be an opportunistic window for hitting the grocery store, even at peak traffic hours. The aisles were clear and no lines at check out. I engaged the cashier, a youngish fellow with schoolboy looks, in fairly meaningful banter about life and our choices in it, (really a not so innocent rant about an art customer who let her mother talk her out of the photograph that had spoken to her, and so her mother chose the image that she liked, even though it would not even hang in her house – sigh), and how we needed to be our own selves. Then “have a good weekend” wishes were offered all around, and off I went to Home Depot. Time for more paint samples in my never ending quest to fix this place up.

Home Despot, as the Queen Mum and I generally refer to it, was equally emptyish, and after I gathered up my reference pamphlets, I sauntered over to the empty Get Your Paint island, deserted and devoid of employees. I waited patiently. And waited. And waited. Nobody in sight, nobody noticing me. (Volumes have already been written on the invisibility of women of a certain age.) After a good and long time it was time to hunt for help, and down the aisles I went. Way back almost to plumbing I spied a fellow up on a ladder, hoisting heavy gallons of somesuch, restocking from a fully loaded pallet of the same. I couldn’t see his face, but inquired pleasantly if he could help me with a paint sample. Of course he could, but let him get these last two containers up on that shelf. They looked really heavy. I went back to the counter.

In due time he was there, an older man, smallish in build, one of the many seniors I so often see working at HD. I told him what I needed, and he commenced to plugging in the various formulas into the masterful mystery of the computerized paint color generator. Solid stain, Atlantic, Premium Grade, sample size. First time was a failure. Second time took us nowhere. I wasn’t in a hurry, so all the time we talked our way though it, knowing one of these times it would work. Third time we found gold, and it all went through like it was supposed to. It was all about not giving up, keeping up the trying, like that. I offhandedly said how stubborn I was, so seldom giving up, and yes, that was why I stuck with that bad boyfriend for so many years – meant to be a self-deprecating joke. It was then than everything changed. While the colors were dispensing, he turned to me and pulled out his wallet, and from right on top of a pocket he pulled out two laminated photographs, one obviously old. “Been married 51 years,” he said. “This is a picture of us on our honeymoon, and here’s one of us a few years ago. She’s turning 75 soon, and in just a few months I’ll be 80.” I told him, “And I bet you still call her your bride.” And he said he did. I allowed as to how this validated my dreams that sometimes it really is out there – it’s real – I do believe in something. And he said, “It’s all because of her.” He told me how they’d moved here after 38 years in Florida, how they’d followed their kids here. And how even now the kids would come over for dinner, and how much that meant. And how his kids, they were everything. Everything.

His accent was certainly not of Florida or Texas, and I easily detected the New Yorker. We traded accent stories, and dollahs and fahmahs markets, and how Brooklyn and Austin had changed over the years. And how much so many things have changed, and how did anyone even afford to take the family to a ballgame anymore. Then followed the stories of living close to Ebbets Field, home of the Brooklyn Dodgers, and going to the World Series when tickets were, are you ready, six dollars.

More stories about how good life was. How if you went to the Italian restaurant next to the movie theater on Tuesday you can get an extra pizza for free, one to take home to the freezer. And Mondays at the League you can get a good hamburger and they give you the second one – free! Always the good.

I could see a bit of palsy in one hand as he put the paint can in the shaker, and still our conversation went on. More stories about how he just can’t sit down in front of the television – there is so much to do. And how every morning he goes out to walk, over there in Lakeway, and how he puts on his music and his headphones, but he doesn’t walk, he DANCES though the neighborhood. He told me a lady came in and said he looked so familiar, and finally they put it together that she’d seen him in the hood. Oh yes! He was the DANCING MAN! We said the words together. More laughter and smiles.

He told me how he came upon a big piece of something in the road down there by the highway, and it was there for days and days. He’d finally stopped to pick it up, and it was ceramic, and heavy, and he’d have to ask them at HD how they could help dispose of it – trash – which no one else was going to do anything about. How life was all about living by the Golden Rule. “You gotta just help somebody when you can. Do something good.” Oh how much I loved this man.

Paint was mixed. It was time to go, but neither of us was ready for it to be over. He introduced himself – Richie – but I could see his name on his store apron. Then he asked my name, and I told him. He startled, and then said, “Stay there, I have to come around.” All around the counter he came, and out to hug me. “What did I do?” I said. “Alexa. That’s my granddaughter’s name! And she’s going to have a baby! A little girl!” He was choking up, a little embarrassed. I was, too. I told him I was so happy about that, because I’d never gotten to do that. By then there was someone waiting, being a bit patient himself while these two humans being were having a moment. We had to let it go then, and he had to help the other man who was looking for Padre Brown. But I told him I’d be back – I was always getting paint. “Sundays, Mondays, and Thursdays, 9 to 6,” he said.

Monday’s coming. That paint sample worked out just fine. I’ll be out and about and I need to get that stain to get the deck done, finally. I’m looking forward to seeing Richie again. I have a new friend. He gave me such a gift. And Hope. He gave me Hope. I think I gave him something, too.

They are out there. I should know that. I have such exceptional friends, blessed beyond any expectations.

Somebody else having a bad day could’ve gone down that aisle and given him what for because no one was at the ready and they had to wait. Somebody else didn’t. It was me. And we were both rewarded. It’s made me feel that much better since then. Today, the rant will have to wait. Today is about Gratitude. Thank you Richie. You are stellar. See you on Monday.

 

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12 Responses to “Finding Hope in the Paint Department of Home Depot”

  1. That was such a wonderful and uplifting post. Not only what you wrote, but also how you wrote Alexa. I’m so happy to see you using your gift for writing once again. We all seem to be struggling through life these days for various reasons…now I feel more like dancing than struggling. Thanks for this today!
    ~Hillary

  2. Carlton Leatherwood Says:

    I’ve been waiting and waiting for you to write. Rewarded.

  3. Voni B Glaves Says:

    Tear rolling down my eyes. There is HOPE!

  4. Maria Carroll Says:

    Loved this, Alexa. It actually made me tear up. Very beautiful. A touching story, told beautifully. Brava. We need more Richie’s and more Alexa’s sharing stories about the Richie’s of the world. Love to you. ~Maria

  5. Alexa, this is the best thing I have read in a long time. Bravo!

  6. Ed Reed Says:

    Wonderful story! And told so well! Just goes to show that you never know what surprises lie ahead. The most amazing event of your life–or of that day, or that hour–could be just around the corner, waiting for you or me to make it happen. Lucky guy, Richie the dancing man. I bet you were his amazing event that day.

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