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MEL, HILDA and SANITY

22 August, 2012

(This short essay was published on Garrison Keilor’s Prarie Home Companion website some time ago.)

‘Supplies’ are those things one forgets to bring along on camping trips, and the main motivating factor for venturing into town.  In the case at hand, the quest was for “RV-Trine” — an enzyme-based holding tank chemical for the environmentally conscious (no formaldehyde).

 Once in town, the scene at “MEL’S HARDWARE, GRAIN ‘N’ FEED, and POST OFFICE” (one has to diversify to survive in a prairie town) went something like this:

 As I enter, Hilda — Mel’s wife since Jesus last came — sits at the front counter, studiously making penciled entries in a general ledger.  (When the first PC arrives at the “Mel’s” of the country, it will be all over.)

 Hilda notices my obvious confusion as I look around the jumble of merchandise and softly asks “Kin ah hep ya fahnd sumthin’?”

 “Um — I’m looking for some RV-Trine.”

 “Harvey who?”

 “No, no — ARE VEE TRINE.  It’s a holding tank chemical for travel trailers,” I respond.

 Hilda’s soft voice shifts suddenly into that of a bona fide, champeen hog caller:  “HEY — MEL!  WE GOT ENY ARE VEE TRYIN’?”

 (The store isn’t much bigger than an International Falls living room, but Mel is well hidden somewhere in the clutter.)

 “Are we tryin’ WHAT?,” Mel yells back.

 Hilda booms out again:  “ARE * VEE * TRYIN’ for HOLDING TANKS!?!”

 “Are we tryin’ to hold tanks?,” comes back Mel’s voice.  “What tanks?  If we got one of ’em and it’s empty, sell the dad-burned thing!”

 (Mel is starting to sound impatient with Hilda.  Patience with life may be greater in prairie towns, but patience with spouses remains the same as in the big cities.)

 “Maybe if I talked to him … ,” I interjected.

 “Comin’ now,” Hilda says.  Sometimes I think that the extra time prairie folk always seem to have comes from their economy of speech.

 Merchandise rattles and rustles, and a loud clatter is followed by what Mel calls “A secret, Indian prayer chant” — but this particular prayer would never be heard in any church that I know of.

 Mel materializes, throwing a glare (and an ‘amen’ to his prayer) back down the aisle.  He’s a wiry, grey-haired little cuss wearing a tee shirt, and boot-leg jeans secured by a wide belt with a huge NRA buckle that looks like it could add 25% to his body weight.

 “Now … whatzis yer lookin’ fer?,” Mel asks as a last clattertinkle echoes from the aisle.

 “Holding tank chemicals …,” I begin.

 “Holden?  Had a coupla Holden pick axes a few yars ago, but I didn’t know they made no tank chemicals.  I ain’t got eny of the axes left … comp’ny went belly up some time back, or so I heard tell.  You don’t look military — whatchu want with tank chemicals enyway?”

 “Mel don’t hear so good eny more,” Hilda explains in a whisper.  Like most women in Mel’s age bracket, she’s one up on body functions and three up on neurons.

 By now it doesn’t matter.  I know Mel doesn’t have any RV-Trine so I buy a gold pan, a new hatchet and a paint scraper — none of which will ever see ‘eny’ use.

 Mel and Hilda smile and thank me — and I leave, wondering if it is too late to sell everything, quit my job, and get sane like Mel and Hilda.

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