Al Batt: Einar’s Hardware had everything I’d be getting

Published 8:45 pm Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Tales from Exit 22 by Al Batt

The weather was up to something. It always is.

Al Batt

My parents took me to town where Santa Claus (who resembled a neighbor named Merle Wakefield) set up shop at the Hartland fire hall. I’m not sure where he parked the reindeer. I was part of a group of humble, snot-nosed (we were snot walruses) children who needed to be prodded to ask Santa for things we weren’t sure we deserved. I asked Merle, who claimed to be Santa even after he responded when I’d said “Hi, Merle,” for what I wanted for Christmas, making sure it was available at Einar’s. Santa’s helpers gave every kid a brown paper bag filled with ancient peanuts, a mushy red apple whose skin (thicker than that of presidents) lodged between our teeth, and cavity-inducing candy so hard the city used it to fill potholes.

Money can’t buy everything. You need credit cards to do that and Dad didn’t use a credit card. When it came to my father’s shopping habits, there were things money could buy as long as they were at Einar’s Hardware. If Einar didn’t have it, I wasn’t getting it from my father for Christmas. Work gloves were a regular gift. They were both handy and hints. There was little difference between my father’s subtle hints and a freight train.

My mother told me nuts don’t fall far from the tree. It’s true, I live a mile from where I was hatched. My father had a strong sense of place and never considered home to be a place he needed to get away from and go somewhere else, but I couldn’t wait to get away after high school graduation and once away, I couldn’t wait to come back home.

The December weather had been sublime with temps into the ’60s. It made people uneasy. I heard people say, “It’s too nice.” I don’t think Minnesotans are fatalistic, but it worries many when the weather does nice things in December. It was a righteous concern.

The weather changed. On Dec. 15, 2021, a tornado tore down Christmas decorations in Hartland. With apologies to every wonderful English teacher I’ve had, that ain’t right. The December tornado was an unprecedented event in the state’s weather history. There were winds up to 115 mph from an EF2 tornado. The tornado touched down a mile southwest of the city and tracked northeast, on the ground for 2.17 miles.

It was as J.R.R. Tolkien wrote, “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door.”

The weather suggested Rossini’s William Tell Overture, a piece of music I listened to for years while shaving before giving up the habit in fear of decapitating myself in orchestral zeal. Like the tornado, the music begins peacefully before chasing up a wind that encourages threatening weather and culminates in a raging storm. The galloping finale of the overture is readily recognizable as being the famed theme for the Lone Ranger. Many galloped into Hartland to help — firefighters, police, utility crews, various government entities, volunteers, media, charitable organizations — the list is endless. Their good work gave the legion of woe no chance to form. Everything was a big thing. There are those important chores not thought of by everyone — as an example, using a magnetic sweeper to clear metal road debris.

A 3000-gallon poly tank from Hartland rolled into the rural yard of my neighbors and parked itself near their home. It left a path just as the tornado had. 

Minnesota is the land of unseasonable weather. The unseasonably warm weather took the snow away, the tornado took away parts of Hartland. The bank, built in 1912, was severely damaged. The post office has temporarily closed. It had provided in-person interactions, the best kind of social media. Many customers must travel 7 miles to the New Richland post office to pick up mail and packages. Homes, businesses and vehicles were wounded. Hartland is my hometown and my home. I hurt when it hurts.

If my father still walked this earth, he’d have a tough time doing his Christmas shopping. The Einar’s Hardware building, years after it had ceased being Einar’s Hardware, was damaged.

The tornado left the scene. There were no injuries, which  was a wonderful Christmas gift.

Al Batt’s columns appear in the Tribune every Wednesday.