With the proliferation of commercial home improvement supply centers in our area I had no idea if the small lumber yard I remembered from years ago was still in operation.
I checked the telephone directory. To my surprise not only were they still in business, they even had a simple web site.
After my morning cup of coffee I pulled on a fleece and cap and stepped outside with the tape measure to check the length and width of the boards I would need to fix the front porch. I wrote the measurements down in pencil on the back of an old envelope, grabbed a hank of rope from the garage and slid behind the wheel of my SUV. It was a short drive to the Riley Lumber Company.
The structure had changed little over the years. The parking area had been paved, but the old barn-like building was still there. I peered through the expansive doorway into the wide central bay. A man silhouetted against the light from the rear of the building was working on the upper level, passing boards down to another man below. The whole place exuded the pleasant smell of aged milled lumber.
I entered through the unmarked office door to find a grey-haired man with a short grey beard standing behind the counter. In front of the counter stood an older woman smiling, and on the counter sat a redheaded youngster, perhaps two years old. The man was showing the boy how to make the register ring.
“What can I do for you?” he asked.
I pulled the envelope from my pocket and produced a short piece of tongue and groove flooring that I had found in the back corner of my garage.
“I’m redoing my front porch,” I said. “I need a couple of boards—three pieces of T&G, as well as some ¾-inch pine for the skirting.”
I handed the man the list. He pulled a tape measure from his belt and checked the width of the piece of wood I had brought. The woman lifted the boy down from the counter and walked him out the side door into the big bay.
“I wasn’t sure of the standard width of the pine, or the standard length for that matter. It’s been a while since I bought lumber.”
“Not a problem,” the man said.
I followed him out through the side door into the bay. The redheaded boy had toddled down to the far end with the woman following closely behind.
“Wait here,” the man said. “I’ll go up top and hand a couple of pieces down to you.”
He ascended the wooden stairs to the second level and began sorting through a stack of tongue and groove fir, eyeing each piece for straightness. He set several aside before handing one down to me. Soon I had three pieces—one 10-footer and two 12-footers.
The man descended the stairs and began sorting through the pine. “You plan on cutting them in the field, or do you want me to cut them here?” he asked.
“I’ll do the final cuts at home,” I said. “I just need them in lengths short enough to carry them on top of the SUV.”
The man picked out several boards and took them to the other side of the bay. He laid them on the table saw and made the cuts. Then he returned to get another 8-foot board. “We can rip this into two 4-inch widths,” he said. He disappeared into the shop and returned shortly with another man at his heels. The other man held the board as the old man pushed it through the rip saw. “You want the trim?” he asked. “We’ll just throw it away.”
“Sure,” I said. “I’ll take it.”
The old man stacked the boards and shrink wrapped the stack near the ends. He carried them on his shoulders out to where I had parked the SUV. “You got some cord to tie them down?” he asked.
“I brought some old clothesline,” I said.
“That should do nicely,” he said.
He laid the boards on top of the roof rack and walked back inside the office. I tied the boards onto the rack, taking care to tighten the knots so they wouldn’t slip. Afterwards, I walked back into the building.
The old man was standing next to a cat that was lying in a basket on the back counter, stroking her head. A porcelain figurine of Louis Armstrong rested on a desk nearby.
“How long has she been part of the firm?” I asked, handing the old man a credit card.
“Eight years,” he said. “She wandered in one day and decided to stay. We had her spayed. Before that we had another stray show up shortly before she had her kittens. We gave the kittens away, and the cat was hit by a car. I can’t tell you how much money we’ve spent on veterinary bills over the years. The animals give you a lot more in return, though.”
He handed me my credit card and a pen. I signed the slip, and he stapled it to the invoice. I offered him my hand. “Thanks for your attentiveness,” I said. “I’d much rather patronize a place like this than one of the big home improvement stores. At least you didn’t run the other way when you saw me coming in.”
We both laughed. The cat in the basket yawned and stroked an ear with one of her paws.