I most recently found out that my friend, Phil, passed away. Phil owned and managed the hardware store on Main Street in my old hometown. Phil was a World War II veteran. More than a veteran, he was a hero. He served in the Pacific Theater aboard the USS Porterfield.
Phil was a good friend to the people of Lincoln Park. He had this charming “tough as nails” exterior with a heart of gold. I mean that as a very sincere compliment. I don’t know how he would do it. He would be making a key for you, while talking to a fellow member of the local American Legion Post about the meeting the night before, and then at the same time he would be telling Mrs. MacGruder where to find the mouse traps. And, amazingly, he would do all of this completely effortless.
When you would enter Phil’s hardware store, the door hinge would squeak, the floor boards would almost sing to you, and you could hear the murmur of voices and laughter of customers congregating at the far end of the hardware store. There was nothing fancy about Phil’s hardware store. In so many ways, that was the charm of his place. It was so down home that it was impossible for anyone to put on airs or be pretentious. Plain and simple, it was totally impossible to act snobby in Phil’s hardware store.
Just to add to the flavor of the down home, Mayberry atmosphere of Phil’s hardware store, was the fact that most of the time that you came into his store, you would be greeted by a big friendly dog. If a big Hollywood producer wanted to find the definitive culture and lifestyle of the American small town, he would have to go no further than dear old Phil’s hardware store. In fact, one time one of the big New York television stations sent a reporter to Phil’s place to do a feature story on the evening news. I think that television station had the best ratings that they had ever had in years. Practically everyone in Lincoln Park watched the news that night. When something big like that happens in a small town, word spreads like wildfire.
As you walked into Phil’s hardware store, there was an old photocopier on your left hand side. You could get a photocopy made for a nickel. This wasn’t 20 or 30 years ago, but rather just a few years ago, when everyone else was charging 15 or 20 cents to make a photocopy. There was a cup on top of the photocopier, filled with a few dollar bills and a lot of change. Phil set it up on the honor system. You would count how many copies you made, multiply that number by five and then put the money into the cup. If you needed change, well, you simply took your change out of the cup. You know, the same kind of system that they have at Home Depot and Lowe’s.
During my days of serving as an Assistant Scoutmaster for a local scout troop, the scouts got the idea of publishing their own newsletter. It was a great idea and I was proud to be their advisor. The boys decided to sell ads to help pay for the printing of the newsletter. Well, in the decade or more that the scouts printed their newsletter, I don’t think Phil’s hardware store ever missed an issue to take out an ad. I don’t think Phil had any idea what that meant to the boys. Like so much of the good works that he did for the people of his town, Phil just took it in stride.
After my dad retired from the trucking industry, he worked as a Crossing Guard. As fate would have it, for years dad crossed the school children at the school crosswalk in front of Phil’s hardware store. Dad often told me how he enjoyed talking with Phil. They had both served in the South Pacific during World War II and they both belonged to the same American Legion Post. I’m sure you can figure it out.
Dad loved to collect die-cast scale models. Frequently, Phil’s hardware store would come out with a limited edition die-cast model truck. I remember Dad often telling me how he appreciated the fact that Phil would always put a die-cast model aside for him. This was before the recession hit us, and people still had money to buy collectible die-cast models, so the truck models at Phil’s hardware store would sell out fast. So, it meant a lot to my dad that Phil would put one aside for him. That was the kind of man Phil was. He was a good friend who thought of others.
I wish I had the privilege to know Phil better than I did. I thought the world of him. I’ve been feeling a bit sad the last few days. I kept thinking to myself, “what can I possibly do to honor Phil?” So, I wrote this blog. It seems trite, superficial, in light of the wonderful man that Phil was. All I can say is Phil was a good man. He was a true friend to the people of Lincoln Park. I am sure he will be dearly missed.
With love and good will, Richard