The Hardware Store

The Hardware Store

The hardware store still had the family name on it even though they had sold out to a franchise more than twenty years ago. At the south end of Main Street, the store had been a Brattleboro fixture for more than one hundred fifty years now. Plate glass windows graced the front, displaying wares to passersby, while the inside boasted a twenty-foot high ceiling supported by intricately scrolled columns resting on the original two-by-six tongue and groove maple flooring. Each aisle of the store so thoroughly trafficked that grooves had been worn into the wood and a person could tell when the floor plan had been altered more than fifty years ago from the waves running cross-way in a number of aisles. At the back of the store was a grand staircase leading up to a second floor loft, containing plumbing supplies, and downstairs to the paint department in the basement. The floorboards had shrunk enough that at some places the lights from the basement could be seen through the cracks.

The most traveled aisle was also the creakiest, hand tools, and that is where Gerry Newman stood talking to Bob Sterling. Gerry was fourth-generation owner of Newman’s hardware and was getting on in years. Recently he noticed that he spent many days reminiscing with customers about old friends who’d passed on. Today was another such day. Last night, Trent Dugan had passed and when Gerry saw Bob Sterling in the aisle looking at the tape measures Gerry asked him if he’d heard the news. They were in the middle of discussing Trent when young Dave LaFoe came down the aisle to ask Mr. Newman about some back orders on the truck they were expecting today.

“I’m telling you, it was right here. I was standing here talking to him and he just started coughing for no reason,” Gerry Newman was saying.

“Mr. Newman…” Dave hesitated, not wanting to cut the boss off.

Gerry turned to Dave, “yes, son, what is it?”

“Mr. Hollis came in. He’s over in Seasonal and wants to know if you thought the sale tulip bulbs are going to be on the truck today.”

“Good Lord,” Newman said to himself. Then, looking at Mr. Sterling, “I’ve gone over this with Chad I don’t know how many times.” Turning back to Dave he said, “Please tell Mr. Hollis that I put in his rain-check order. I place an order for tulip bulbs every time I place an order but we are at the bottom of the food chain up here in Brattleboro and when the wholesaler has three hundred orders to fill and only two hundred of the item, the big box stores get their orders and we have to wait. He’s a capitalist, he should understand that.” With that, Dave walked away and Gerry turned back to Bob Sterling, “He’s a banker so you’d figure he knows about supply and demand and all that.”

“He never was too bright though,” said Sterling. “I taught him for Algebra and Geometry and very generously I gave him a ‘B’ in both. Back to Trent though, I’ve heard that story so many times,” Bob said almost dismissively. “It gets more and more impressive every time I hear it but I still don’t buy it.”

Trent Dugan was the biggest and toughest guy Bob Newman had ever met. Trent had grown up on a farm in Guilford, the fourth of six boys. Bob met Trent when Trent came to Brattleboro High School in 1954, Guilford not having its own high school. The two had become quick friends and both loved football. Trent was over six feet tall and more than two hundred pounds in ninth grade. By the tenth grade he was a starting guard on the varsity football team. Bob had to wait until junior year to make varsity but by then he’d sprouted to six-three and became the best wide-receiver the school had known. During their junior year, 1957, the two helped bring the team to the state championship game only to fall short against Rutland. That was Trent Dugan’s final game as a Brattleboro Colonel though.

“OK, Bob. I’ll tell you the real story since you weren’t here for any of it and you would have been too young to remember it even if you were.” Bob Sterling was a transplant to Brattleboro, a fact that still mattered to some. The Sterling’s had come to Vermont in the sixties and settled in Bennington, part of the dreaded hippie migration that so many natives still lament. After finishing college in 1979 Bob Sterling had come over the Green Mountains to Brattleboro for a teaching job. Also, being fourteen years Gerry’s junior, he was only three when the event in question took place.

“I wasn’t there the night he was shot, I’ll tell you that right up front, but he was shot and that’s for sure. He was dating Marjorie, his wife. They’d been dating for about two months, from the beginning of the summer. Before him, Marge had been dating a senior, Dale Burrey. Dale graduated that May and was heading off to Dartmouth in the fall. As Marge tells the story, Dale was too impressed with himself to be good husband material and for some reason, probably Trent, she broke it off after graduation instead of waiting until he went off to school like people normally did back then. Marjorie had began dating Trent over the summer after meeting up at the Guilford fair.

“One night in August after Marjorie had turned eighteen  the two of them were in the Brew House down on Flat Street. Dale showed up later that night.  We’d all played football together but Dale and Trent didn’t get along.” Gerry leaned in and spoke confidentially, “Personally, I agree with Marge’s assessment that Dale was a poser and vain fashion plate and I think Trent did too. Either way, Trent was not impressed with Dale,” then stood back to continue.

“Trent was in the bathroom when a very drunk Dale came in the bar and walked right up to Marjorie as soon as he saw her. He began berating her, loudly, with ‘how could you leave me?’ and ‘it’s beneath you to date a lineman’ and ‘you’ll be sorry, just wait and see,’ stuff like that. When Trent came back out of the bathroom and tried to settle Dale down, Dale pushed him so Trent laid him out. As the story goes, he put him down with one shot.”

Bob interrupted, “Is this the Dale Burrey of the Burrey’s who still live here in Brattleboro?”

“Yep. You gotta know his nieces and nephews. They all went to BHS.”

Bob nodded, “They were all pains in the ass, to varying degrees.”

“To be fair, Dale had a bit of an ego problem. The next generation’s have had to live with the stigma that followed this event.” He continued, “Now, getting put down was not something Dale liked very much and he must have been very drunk because, though he never really seemed the type to me, he went out to his old Ford F-1, got his .410 shotgun and came back in the bar. The thing was filled with birdshot.

“Trent didn’t see him coming, he thought it was done. When Dale got within ten or fifteen feet, depending on who you talk to, Marjorie screamed. Trent turned around and Dale opened up with the birdshot.”

“Holy shit,” said Bob. “Right there in the middle of the bar?”

“Exactly,” Gerry nodded. “Not exactly a reasoned reaction to getting knocked on your can.”

Grey-haired Mrs. Gibbons had been standing by one of the front registers. As she heard the story being recounted, however, she had begun drifting her frail body closer to the conversation. Now that they got to the juicy part, she gave one look back at the register and abandoned all pretense at doing her job. “This is my favorite part,” she said as she approached the two men.

“Mrs. Gibbons!” Gerry reproached. “You have a true blood lust that I find disturbing.”

“It’s not bloodlust. He is a man, that Trent.   …was… was a true man, standing up for Marjorie like that. She told me that she knew he was the one for her on their third date but that if she’d ever had any doubts before that night, they were gone after what happened.”

“What happened then?” Mr. Sterling was fascinated now.

Dale shot Trent in chest and right shoulder . . . Did you ever see those pock marks on his right cheek when you saw him around town?”

“Yes, of course,” said Sterling.

“Those were the scars from the BB’s that Doc Hensley dug out of him. At that close range, most of the shot hit Trent in the chest. It missed his eyes, thank God.”

“So Marjorie Dugan married him because he didn‘t die? Because he’s so tough?” Sterling interrupted.

Newman continued, “No, not that. It was partly because Trent didn’t go down. The force knocked him back a step but then he regained himself. The other part is because even though he’d been shot, he then came at Dale again who was now putting the gun up in front of himself for protection. Trent knocked him out with one punch again, this time with a left and he’s a righty. And then, again, with his left Trent picked up that .410, slammed it against the bar and broke it in half. He snapped the barrel right off at the hinge from the lock and stock.”

Sterling’s eyes widened in disbelief but before he could object to the tale Newman continued, “Frank Tunstile was working the bar that night. He grabbed up the pieces of that gun. After the cops were done with it and Dale was convicted, Frank asked for it back. It’s the one still hanging behind the bar today. You ever go in there?”

Bob Sterling shook his head.

“You should. You can still see the dent in the mahogany if you look for it. That’s part of why the Burrey family has had such a tough go of it in this town ever since. Everyone tells and retells that story all the time; any time someone asks about what that broken shotgun’s doing hanging behind the bar.”

Mrs. Gibbons was flushed at just hearing the story again. “It really is the most amazing thing I’ve ever heard,” she agreed. “Burrey may have been going off to Dartmouth to be a big man,” she added, “but he never lived that night down the rest of his life. Beaten twice, and once after having shot a man,” she shook her head in amazement.

“The whole family bears the brunt of that event,” said Gerry Newman. “In a small town like this, memories persist and his whole family has had to live with his actions even to this day. Imagine shooting someone over getting knocked on your can,” he said agreeing with Mrs. Gibbons.

Pressing on, Newman said, “So Trent missed the whole senior year of football. He insisted he could practice within the month but Doc Hensley and Trent’s mom refused to let him. We didn’t make it back to State’s that year,” he added as an aside.

“One Sunday about three months later though, Trent is in the store, right here,” he pointed at the spot he was standing, “and we’re talking. I’m working, of course. He tells me he saw Doc Hensley the day before, while I was at the last game of the season, against White River Junction. Trent’s telling me that the doc tells him he should recover fully, how lucky he is, and the like, when he suddenly starts coughing. When I ask him what’s wrong, he says, ‘something’s itching, tickling inside my chest’. He keeps coughing and coughing and then he starts hitting his own chest with a balled fist, like he’s trying to get something out of him and then ‘bloop!’ out pops a BB from his mouth with one cough. It bounces across over to there,” Newman pointed toward the cash register, “and then rolls down the aisle.”

“No way!,” objected Bob Sterling. “That’s the story I heard. There is no frickin way that happens. How did he get a BB in his lung?”

“Hand to God,” swore Gerry  Newman, raising his hand in a pledge. “I picked the BB up and we brought it down to the doc. Hensley says that BB lodged in his lung when he was shot and finally worked its way free enough into a larger air sac. Trent’s first cough must’ve shook it free and then he could feel it in there and had a coughing fit until it came up. Toughest guy I ever knew,” he concluded, shaking his head again.

Retelling the story of his best friend had always somehow made Gerry Newman proud before. He was proud to be associated with Trent, proud to be Country, proud to be of Vermont stock. This time at the retelling however, all he could feel was the gaping loss. “I’m gonna miss him,” he said as he strode away toward Seasonal where he could hear Hollis still giving young Dave a hard time.

One comment

  • Anonymous
    March 8, 2013 - 6:56 pm | Permalink

    I love this story!

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