Thursday, April 8, 2010

Sweet Bees and K-Mart

Even though they came from just up the road in Burlington, it took us a while to get to know Hannah and Brad when they visited Fern Forest for a night in the treehouse. Brad is the most understated fellow I’ve ever met. He’s compact and fit, an athlete who took up ice hockey this year, even though he’d never played before. But he plays roller hockey and soccer and football, and they keep him in shape. He’s cautious until he gets to know you, not giving away anything about himself. H is like that, too. Maybe it comes from being a competitor—don’t give the opponent any advantage; keep him guessing.

“What kind of work do you do?” I asked.

“Retail,” he said. I could’ve let it go at that, but I’m a writer, and I’m always looking for a story.

“What store?” I said.

He hesitated before answering, “K-Mart.”

“Oh,” I said, “Martha Stewart!”

“Her contract ran out,” he said. “She’s with Macy’s now.”

“Too bad,” I said. My financial adviser just sold my Macy’s stock because it’s heading downhill. K-Mart is holding its own. I like K-Mart. I’ve bought garden supplies there and once I snagged a sweet pair of 14-karat earrings for a song. I avoid Wal-Mart, but I’ll shop at K-Mart. Maybe it’s a nostalgia thing. When my son was little and we were struggling to meet ends, I always managed to find something I could afford in the kids department at K-Mart. Vermont was the last state in the union to allow a Wal-Mart store. Governor Dean finally agreed to let Wal-Mart open in a flagging downtown, and in the mid-nineties they established themselves in a vacant store in Bennington—which some say isn’t really Vermont at all but a suburb of Massachusetts. When republican Jim Douglas succeeded Dean as governor, Wal-Marts started springing up all over the state. I like republicans about as much as I like Wal-Mart. But I’ll shop at K-Mart. Yes, I will.

Hannah bubbles with cherubic cheer. Originally from Connecticut, she came to Vermont to attend UVM and landed a job as a manager at K-Mart, where she met Brad. I thought of the Nanci Griffith song, “Love at the Five and Dime” and imagined these two hovering around the bulk candy bins or dancing in the aisles after closing time.

It wasn’t until the next morning that Brad let us see just a sliver of his inner light. He played soccer in junior high, but his father never came to watch his games. His dad was a football guy, he reasoned, so when he got to high school, he went out for the freshman team and made it. He played his heart out, checking the stands between plays for his dad, but he wasn’t there. He never came to a single one of Brad’s games. His mom, who works for the University of Vermont, suggested Brad give up sports and concentrate on his grades. He did, and he got into UVM and majored in business. Now he’s in charge of marketing for K-Mart, and he’s doing a darn good job. I just hope his dad shops there from time to time.

Hannah now works for Chittenden Bank in the loan department. Her biggest aspiration is to acquire a hive of bees and keep them in the back yard. If you ask me, this couple is sweet enough without the honey. But, like Brad, Hannah knows how to go for her dreams, and she’ll have those bees—I don’t doubt it. She’ll need the head gear and the smoker and the other accouterments of the bee hobby, and maybe she’ll be able to find them at K-Mart. I wouldn’t be at all surprised.

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