Wednesday, Jan. 22, 1987
It was delivery day at Comfort Rock General Store, and Walden was sorting and lugging heavy bins of groceries when I walked in after school.
There was something different coming into the store every day – dairy and bread on Mondays, potato chips on Tuesdays and Thursdays, soda and beer on Fridays – but those deliveries were always mostly taken care of by the drivers. The Wednesday dropoff was different. The biggest of the week, Walden and Wilson had to get it all checked in and shelved quick as they could so it was available for customers to buy. And the cycle continued.
There was always a bit of stuff left to put away around this time on Wednesdays, but today it seemed like most of the order was untouched.
Walden was hauling a bin of baking supplies to the other side of the store when I walked in.
“Hi, Walden,” I said. “Big delivery?”
“Lauren. Hello there! A bit bigger than usual, with those ice fishers coming in and out constantly, but on top of that, my only help’s upstairs, sleeping off the flu.”
“Wilson’s sick? I think half the kids at school have it, too. Um … any chance Zadok got that note I left him?”
Walden pawed through a bin of candy and shook his head.
“Those jackasses! They shorted me on fireballs and black licorice. Those ice fishers love that stuff. I oughtta …” He looked up at me. “I’m sorry, sweetie. What’d you say?”
“Zadok? He been by yet?”
“Nope. Ain’t seen him. He had firewood comin’ in today, though, so he’s probably running late.”
“Ok if I wait for him?”
Walden tore open a box of Snickers and placed it on the shelf below the cash register.
“Not a very fun place to be right now,” he said, gesturing at the mess he’d made of the delivery. “At this rate, I’m gonna have to call Wilson down here to help. And that means language a young person such as yourself shouldn’t be exposed to.”
“I live on a farm, remember? Daddy and the other guys don’t hold back when a cow won’t step into the stanchions or when the chopper shears a bolt. I think I can handle Wilson’s grumbling. But how about instead of calling him down, you let me help out until Zadok gets here? I don’t need to be home for a while, even.”
Walden dropped a box containing spooled fishing line. The spools rolled out in all directions across the floor. I ran after them.
“Thank you, sweetie,” he said. “I can’t have young kids working here, though. State would be up one side of me and down the other.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t be working. Just … helping out. For fun. It’s better than just sitting and watching you do it. You don’t have to pay me or nothin’. Rather do this than walk home and come back later.”
“Well if you’re gonna put it that way …” Walden stepped back and looked the pile of merchandise up and down, snapped his fingers, and pointed over my right shoulder. “You see that empty set of shelves over by the maple syrup?”
“That’s for these three bins of Valentine’s Day crap,” he said, pointing at the stack closest to the register. “I mean products. Valentine’s Day products. Sorry. Not a fan of the holiday, myself. Anyway, if you want, go ahead and set it all up however you see fit. Just make it pretty.”
Walden pulled the stack over to the shelves and left me to it. A little over half an hour later, I’d put together what I considered to be the most eye-catching Valentine’s display in the history of the holiday.
There were so many different hearts – crunchy conversation hearts, spicy cinammon hearts, cream-filled chocolate hearts – and I gave each type a home on a different shelf. I put the conversation ones on the middle shelf next to the Bugs Bunny, Alvin & the Chipmunks, Popples, and Garfield cards we’d be giving to each other in school in a few weeks. The chocolate hearts went on the top shelf next to the mushy grown-up cards that I didn’t even bother to look at. And the cinnamon hearts went on the bottom shelf with a bunch of stuffed animals that had (of course) heats sewn all over them. I placed a few of them on the top two shelves to fill up space, too.
“How’s that?” I asked Walden.
He stood back and gave the display a good going over.
“Well, now. That’s real nice. Better than I would’ve done. Doubt Wilson’d do any better either. Mission accomplished, sweetie,” he said, patting me on the shoulder. “Shame I can’t hire you.”
I felt myself brimming over with pride.
“Yeah, but I’m too young, like you said. Plus, you and Wilson don’t need anyone anway.”
Walden gathered up the empty bins and stacked them inside one another. Even after all his and my work, there were still six left to empty.
“Oh, I don’t know about that, Lauren. Things aren’t getting any slower here. We’ve been talking about it off and on for a while now. And if Wilson doesn’t get to feeling better soon, well … I might have to find somone anyway, just for part-time.”
I wondered who I could think of to work at the store. Everyone I knew that didn’t have a job was my age.
“I bet you’ll find someone,” I said. “It’s a nice place to work.”
“Thank you, sweetie. Now if you’ll –”
The bell on the front door rang, and Zadok came stomping in.
“There ya go, Lauren,” Walden said. “Looks like your hard work paid off.”
Zadok stood at the entryway, the very picture of an old-time Vermonter.
A big, red-and-black checkered, wool hat sat atop his head, furry ear flappers folded down. Strands of gray hair stuck out here and there. Big, fuzzy, gray caterpillars rested above his wrinkle-framed eyes. His nose and cheeks were road maps of little, broken, red veins, put there from too much time in he sun. A few days of gray and black scruff covered his face and down onto his neck. He saw Walden and grinned, revealing a gap-toothed smile.
Zadok wore layers of wool, flannel, and thermal cotton shirts. Red suspenders held up fuzzy, green, wool pants that were heavily worn at the knees and dirty brown at the cuffs. A pair of old, leather Frye workboots that looked like Dad’s, but much older and more beaten up, completed the outfit.
“By jumpins! Gonna get through this winter now, boy,” he said, his voice raspy from years of smoking a corncob pipe. “Old Campbell brought that wood up earlier. Wah! Ain’t it awful nice ’n’ dry, though. Keep me warm ’til April, hey?”
“Afternoon, Zadok,” Walden said. “Glad to hear that firewood worked out for ya. If it burns half as good as the stuff I got from him, it’ll keep you toasty.”
Walden nudged me forward gently with a hand on my back.
“This here young lady’d like to talk with you. You know Lauren Comstock?”
Zadok looked at me with suspicion.
“Comstock, eh? You little Julie’s kid?”
I tried not to laugh. He thought of Mom as a little girl but called Mr. Campbell old. In reality, they were practically the same age.
“I am, sir,” I said.
He coughed up a laugh or laughed up a cough. I’m still not sure which.
“‘Sir.’ I ain’t been called called that since they invented the word, I think. My name’s Zadok, so call me Zadok, little missy.”
“I … ok. Zadok. Zadok, I’m doing a project for school about Comfort Rock history, and I need to interview someone. I’d like to interview you if it’s ok.”
Zadok pulled his hat off and scratched his head.
“Interview me? This somethin’s gonna make me look a fool? I know you kids like to laugh at the old, weird bastard up on the hill! By god, I won’t have that.”
I didn’t expect that reaction. I backed away, shaking his head.
“No, sir. Uh, Zadok. It’s not like that. I think you’re interesting, and I want to hear about things you’ve experienced. That’s all. I know those kids who laugh at you, and they laugh at everybody. They think they’re better than everyone else. That’s not me. Not a bit.”
He looked from me to Walden.
“What you make of this, Brosseau?”
“I think you oughtta calm down, Zadok. Lauren here is the sweetest girl around. Not everyone under the age of 50 is out to get you. I think it’d be a real nice thing for you to sit down and talk with her, answer her questions. You always complain that no one talks to you. Well … here’s your chance to talk.”
Zadok’s tongue wiggled back and forth between one of the bigger gaps in his teeth while he thought. Walden looked at me and smiled, nodding slightly.
“Where’s Wilson?” Zadok asked.
“Wilson? You want to ask him, too?” Walden said.
“Ask him what?”
“About the interview?”
“Oh that. Yup. I’ll do it. Jeezum crow! Be nice to teach the youngsters a little somethin’. Now where’s Wilson?”
I couldn’t track Zadok’s train of thought, but I had what I needed.
“Thanks, Zadok! I really appreciate it. Can I come by tomorrow after school to talk to you?”
“Tomorrow? Don’t see why not.”
“Great! I’ll be there around quarter to four.”
“Quarter to. It’ll be an honor.”
“Thanks again, Zadok. You too, Walden.”
“Happy to help,” Walden said.
I ran out the door and headed home to come up with my questions.
To be continued …
THE COMFORT ROCK CHRONICLES IS AN ONGOING SERIES OF SHORT STORIES ABOUT A FICTITIOUS VERMONT TOWN, AN AMALGAM OF ALL NORTHWEST VERMONT HAS TO OFFER. COMFORT ROCK HAS BEEN GROWING IN MY HEAD FOR WELL OVER 20 YEARS. I REALLY LIKE THE FOLKS WHO CALL COMFORT ROCK HOME, AND I HOPE YOU DO TOO.