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  • She stood just an inch or two over 5 the ft mark, and if I had to guess she might have gotten the scale to read a buck ten, but only if she jumped up and down on it. With the ease and familiarity she wielded the rubber mallet in her hand instinct told me to just wait patiently at the counter for her to finish sealing the lid on a can of paint. As she laid the hammer aside and turned around the first thing I noticed was her apron, that same orange canvas apron that all the employees wear. Hers however literally had a hundred smudge marks of paint on the sides of it, all shaped like a thumb or finger and then smeared, every color imaginable. "Can I help you?"
    "Hi" I said standing there holding a piece of wood trim in my hand. Her smile wasn't real big or bright but genuine and friendly. In her early 20's she had a very plain Jane type beauty to her and everything from her straight, dirty blonde hair down to the plaid shirt under the apron just 'fit'. She really did look like some girl next door, your best friends sister, someone who could easily be your best friend herself.
    I had recently purchased an older van and was in the process of customizing it into a vehicle comfortable for road tripping. The van already has some custom wood trimming in it. So my thoughts were that even as rude as my woodworking skills would be with the small amount of tools I had with me, as long as I could get it all to match color-wise it wouldn't turn out looking quite like something outfitted by Red Green. Actually I was already on the road and in an unfamiliar town, my lack of knowing where the small, local type hardware stores had led me to reluctantly pull into the big box store in the first place. I watched as she laid out several sheets of samples and started into the matching process. I pointed to a couple I thought were close but was told for one reason or another why they wouldn't work.
    Her rolled up sleeve revealed part of a tattoo, an acoustic guitar. Who has a tattoo of an acoustic guitar? Especially these days when most tats are some pointy, geometrical design that too the owner has absolutely no meaning any deeper than 'it looked cool'.
    "I don't like any of these," she said and put all the samples away,"hang on", she left and disappeared down an aisle. She reappeared moments later with no less than 6 small cans of stain and dumped them onto the counter. With the quickness of a switchblade she had an opener out and went to prying off all the lids. I tried to explain that it really wasn't THAT critical but she just kind of ignored me. We talked, smiled and laughed as she told me about her job and that getting to make a mess now and then was the fun part. Messes or not she must have been doing something right because they hadn't moved her from this dept in well over 2 years.
    She stirred each can with one of them wooden paint sticks and laid each stick next to the can. Next came out a small bush and then a wad of paper towel for daubing. Then when some of that wasn't working low and behold a blowdryer appeared to dry the sticks and we kind of started the process all over again. As she leaned forward, concentrating hard enough to seemingly 'will' a shade of color from the wood I could see a necklace of some kind hanging from her neck, a set of military dog tags. Could they be hers? Maybe, maybe not, she is pretty young. Could be a husband, could be but still, her age really didn't fit that scenario. Could be an older brother that went away to war and has yet to return. I found myself wondering if perhaps the attention and passion with which she dived into her job was perhaps a way to help forget about missing who the tags did belong to. Maybe so, or maybe she is just an artist at heart, maybe both. In the end I didn't ask, instead I told her I thought she was pretty awesome and 'thank you very much'. I left with two cans of completely different colored stains, two different types of brushes and strict instructions on which one to use first, how much, etc…
    Now my wood working skills aside when it came time to apply the stain I figured the least I could do was follow her instructions.

    One of my biggest peeves with the all the big box stores taking over america today is not really the lack of expertise but the lack of personality and pride they seem to foster. This day I was delightfully proved wrong. The attached photo shows the window sill and the book rack which is the 17 year old original trim in the van, the wood in the foreground her color recipe to match it-
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