A few months ago I preached a sermon that started like this:
Somewhere in my collection of childhood memories there is a hardware store, the old-fashioned kind, with wooden floors and lots of interesting things on the shelves, and that smell that can only be described as an old-fashioned hardware store smell: a blend of rubber boots and baby chicks, metal buckles and leather straps, fresh lumber, finishing nails, and one other smell I can’t quite put my finger on. Maybe the something else is the smell of seed corn in galvanized metal buckets near the front door, because that is always a part of this memory. When I was a boy I would go to the hardware store with my dad, and in the springtime, while he was paying for whatever it was he had come looking for, I would squat down and thrust my hand into one of those buckets of corn, feeling the smooth, cool seeds giving way and then closing around my small, warm hand.
It was a sermon from John 12, where Jesus says “unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies it remains alone, but if it dies it bears much fruit.” The hardware store illustration was only a way to get onto the subject of seeds, but for at least one couple in the congregation that day it was more than that.
John and Mary Adams are some of our newer members, even though they have lived in the area since 1968. Their son, Dan, owns the Ashland Feed Store, which was established in 1918 and hasn’t changed much since. They invited me to come to Ashland for a visit and yesterday, during the lunch hour, I did.
When I stepped inside the building I found it to be almost exactly as I had described the old-fashioned hardware store in my sermon: those same wooden floors, that same blend of smells. Sure enough, right there near the front door was a chicken coop with a dozen baby chicks inside. John took one out and put it in my hands where I could feel its soft, downy feathers and remember the Easter chick I had bought at the hardware store when I was a boy. We moved on into the store where I saw a black and white cat was stretched out on a feed sack, napping. Against the wall were bins of vegetable seeds that could be scooped out, weighed on an ancient scale, and dumped into brown paper bags—celery seeds, cucumber, and squash.
John and Mary kept steering me toward the back of the store and when we got there I saw why. There on the wooden floor was a galvanized metal bucket full of seed corn. “Do you want to stick your hand down in it?” John asked. I did. I rolled up my sleeve and reached down into the bucket, feeling the smooth, cool seeds giving way and then closing around my hand. “Does that take you back in time?” John asked.
“I’m six years old again,” I said.
That was a nice gift, wasn’t it? A little trip back in time? And lunch at the Smokey Pig afterward was a nice gift, too.
I’m not saying all our new members have to take the pastor back in time and then take him to lunch, but it was a treat to spend that time with John and Mary, to get to know a little bit about the town they call home, and to appreciate the fact that somebody out there was listening to the sermon. And if you’ve never been to the Ashland Feed Store I would recommend a visit. Even if it doesn’t take you back in time it will be an experience.
And maybe you’ll come home with a baby chick.