Sometimes a thing passes from your life without you noticing. Even after you notice it’s gone, you shrug and give barely a backwards glance. Sometimes a thing passes and it hits you head on, staggering you and forcing you so far down you don’t know how you’ll ever recover.
Sometimes a thing passes away in a predictable way. It fades into the background of your life, a faint beacon in the back of your brain, and when it finally leaves you, it leaves a hole. This is what New Lumber and Hardware has done to me.
New Lumber didn’t do it intentionally, of course. It hung in there until the end. A family business, started over fifty years ago by Philip Eichholtz, sat off Pacific Highway in Federal Way, WA. Catering to homeowners and contractors alike, New Lumber was one of the few locally owned and operated businesses left in Federal Way, and I had the distinct pleasure to work there.
Jim Eichholtz, Phillip’s son, hired me on when I was 16. I can’t say a lumber yard was my first choice for employment, though I was definitely interested. I loved building things, so it seemed like a natural fit. Since all the video game testing jobs seemed to be taken or non-existent, I accepted Jim’s offer and went to work at his lumber yard.
It was a difficult run at first. This was my first job, and well, I was a spoiled kid. I worked as hard as I thought I should. Jim and his yard foreman, Dan, quickly whipped me into shape. They taught me how to work and how to stay busy. Just doing the bare minimum, the way I’d always done things as a kid, wasn’t nearly as rewarding as getting a job done and figuring out the next.
Work was only part of my experience at New Lumber. I made friends there, a family even. Fred Eichholtz, Jim’s son, started work at the yard a year or so after I did, and we quickly became friends. I made good friends with a lot of the staff, and for the five years that I worked at New Lumber, the business became like a second home for me. Even after I left Federal Way and moved to Bellingham, I held onto a lot of the friendships I’d made at New Lumber. Time, of course, erodes all things, and phone calls grew farther and farther apart, but every time I stepped through the front doors of the store, it was like coming home again.
It’s sad I won’t be able to do that again. When I finally heard this year that the store was closing, I wasn’t surprised. I’d heard grumblings of the sort from my old co-workers over the years. The building of several box stores within the city was a start. When the city built a median down the center of the highway in front of the store, business slowed further. The store hung in there for years after, but eventually, Jim and his brother, Bill, had to close it down.
I recently attended Jim’s retirement party, and it was a great time seeing all sorts of familiar faces from my past. It was a strange event though. On one hand, I was happy for Jim and his wife for finally reaching that point in their lives where they could retire and enjoy their lives without the need for work. On the other hand, it was the end of their business, the end of New Lumber. I was so happy for my old boss, and at the same time, I was sad. His store, this place that’d been so influential for me, was gone.
As I drove home after the party, I stopped off the highway in front of the hollowed out store. I couldn’t stand to be there for more than a minute. I’d much rather remember the yard for what it was. The people who worked there are mostly still around, and I’ll have to work harder whenever I want to visit them again. Some may simply fade away into my past. That’s how life is though. Things are there, and then they aren’t, but life continues to flow in and around it.
Thank you, New Lumber, for being a home for me during my early years. Thank you to all the friends I made there. Thank you, Jim, for teaching me about work and family. I’ll miss what New Lumber was, but I won’t forget the memories I have there and the lessons I learned.
NOTE: Writing is one of the most important things to me. My most poignant memory from New Lumber was the loft where we kept the insulation. There was a little table up there and it looked out over the yard. I’d often take my breaks or lunches up there and write. Some of the early drafts of The Chosen of the Light were penned up in that loft. I love that memory.