Completion of “Hank at the General Store”

Hank at Crane’s General Store

The journey from the Caprock fire site to the city of Lubbock took most of the day. Highway 84 was light on traffic and even lighter on motorists willing to pick up a hitchhiker looking like he had just emerged from the wilderness. As evening encroached upon the college town, Hank decided on a quality night’s sleep in a small roadside motel south of town. A shower and clean shirt would also make him look less threatening in public.

The following morning surprised him. Late October in Texas was not what he had known growing up in Missouri. Here, a bright sun-splashed morning with a hint of autumn weather embraced him, not the biting frost he had known all his life this time of year. Crane’s General Store lay on the quiet southern border of Lubbock, the traffic occasional on the farm-to-market road stretched out front. On the south side of the store, a long stretch of cotton field lay, looking like freshly fallen snow. Hank had only read about cotton farming when in school; he had never seen one with his own eyes. To the north of the store, a lenghty stretch of land rolled out flat as a carpet, golden brown under the autumnal sun, the low horizon providing a bright azure sky with no clouds. The cool winds brought acrid smells of tractor exhaust and he saw the rusty Allis-Chalmers chugging along the empty stretch of farm land.

Inside the dim interior of the store, Hank noticed immediately the pot-bellied stove, not yet needed for winter, but already on standby. The brightly clashing colors of canned and cartoned essentials lined the tidied shelves, ready for his restocking before hitting the road again. The sight of the meat counter took Hank way, way back to Proustian remembrances of Marlin’s store down the road from his grandparents’ farm in southeast Missouri. The Marlin family lived in the back of the store, and Hank now noticed a door behind the meat counter that separated the Crane residence from the actual store. It reminded him of the residence he left behind in Turvey’s Corner less than a month ago.

Mrs. Crane (call me Annie) was a gracious soul in her late years, her silver-colored hair stretched tightly back into a neat bun, her white apron already stained from the foods she had been preparing for customers throughout the morning. Conversation with her was warm and inviting, and he learned that this store had been established during World War I, and had never been out of business, handed down through the generations of Cranes living on the southside of Lubbock. Hank had not entered a store such as this since the late 1950’s and the mental journey back into his personal history filled him with a warmth that he needed this particular morning.

Peering at the items beneath the glass, Hank ordered a pair of sandwiches to be prepared, one for now, the other to be wrapped in wax paper for later. Bologna and sharp cheddar cheese were sliced on the old white Hobart machine. The bread also was sliced from a loaf and slathered with mustard and mayonnaise. Each of the pair of sandwiches was completed with a slice of yellow onion, slice of fresh tomato from the garden out back, and some lettuce. Glass bottles of Coke were collected from the big red box at the front of the store. Hank thanked Annie for the warm moment and stepped out to the front porch.

A row of freshly painted Warmack steel lawn chairs lined the shaded portion of the store, waiting for company. Setting down his backpack, Hank settled into one of the chairs, took out one of his sandwiches, and, forgetting to open his Coke, went back into the store to find an opener on the front of the red box. Now, it was time to chew the sandwich slowly and resume his reading of Emerson from the volume of essays the minister gave him a few days ago. “Self-Reliance” titled an essay that Hank thought might be appropriate for this stage of his life’s journey.

Ne te quaesiviris extra.

“Do not seek outside yourself.” Brushing back tears, Hank leaned back, closed his eyes and paused as a wave of cathartic emotion washed over him without warning. Throughout his life, he had harbored an inferiority complex. He never regarded himself as physically attractive, he was not athletic in school and not popular either. From his early childhood, his family had lived in rural settings with no neighborhoods of children with whom to bond and play. Hank, an only child, had spent his childhood years alone, and once entering school, never really knew how to reach out to his classmates. Remaining quiet during class discussions, he listened with envy to his peers answering all questions and bravely leading out with their opinions on literature assigned. And so, to add to his physical appearance and lack of sociability, Hank harbored this notion of being intellectually inferior. Time spent working in the gas station did not improve his social condition; proprietors were mostly old men who talked and laughed with each other, while Hank stood in the background looking on. His entire life was spent measuring himself against the standard of what he saw in others, always concluding that his own spirit had been weighed and found wanting.

And now he was here, seventeen hours from his home, afoot. Why? To think, and not be surrounded by the people he had seen all his life but who never really seemed to see him. Out west, Hank was finding time, space and a feel for destiny. No longer would he have to listen to Mom asking “When are you going to make something of your life?” or Dad commenting that Hank was O.K., just had been sheltered all his life and now had no clue what to do with it. The other day, the Reverend told Hank: “God made you, and God doesn’t make junk. Read Emerson’s Self-Reliance. It’s time to start believing in yourself.”

To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men,–that is genius.

One reason Hank was ready to listen to Emerson with his whole heart came from a fact the Reverend had surprised him with in conversation: the reality that Emerson was a nominal student in school, not a class standout by anyone’s standards. In college as well, Emerson did not impress his mentors. What essentially set him apart as an American sage was this indwelling determination that he had quality to share with anyone who would listen. Hank was now listening.

A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within, more than the lustre of the firmament of bards and sages. Yet he dismisses without notice his thought, because it is his.

Emerson was now calling out Hank in the most provocative way. In school all those years, Hank always thought his ideas were wrong and inferior because they did not match what his teachers and peers were saying aloud. Now, for the first time, he was embracing his ideas because they were his. People don’t go out on the open road with no advanced planning. But this is what Hank was doing, right now, and for the first time he was ready to believe in its value.

____________________________________________________________

Thank you readers for your continued encouragement as I work on this new Hank material. I am forced to take a hiatus for a few days . . . I’ll explain later. I hope to return soon with new stories and a new painting to continue the Hank saga.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

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