The Mercantile where I worked for two seasons sold hatchets. The Mercantile was located in a campground in the middle of a national forest, so the buyer for the store probably thought people would buy the hatchets to use in chopping firewood. We sold a few, not many. Most campers bought firewood from the camp host; this wood was already cut and split to fit in a
fire ring. The campers who collected wood for their campfires tended to be prepared with hatchets they’d brought from home.
Usually hatchets sat in a wooden crate in the camping section of the Mercantile and received no attention. However, on one Saturday the hatchets were noticed by boys too young to have them.
The first two boys came in during the morning. They were not accompanied by an adult, which always made me groan. The boys couldn’t have been more than 8 years old, and I wondered if their parents let then go by themselves into Wal-Mart or the mall. I’m not sure why some parents thought because our store was in a campground, it was ok to let their kids wander in alone.
I didn’t bother the boys, but I kept an eye on them. They were horsing around a the back of the store, but not being destructive or too loud. I had no qualms about sending unruly children on their way, but I didn’t feel I had the right to kick out people who weren’t misbehaving.
Then one of the boys found the hatchets.
Ooohhh! Look at this! the one called to his friend. The second boy was over in a flash.
Most of the hatchets had a plastic protector over the blade, but some of the
protectors had been lost in the shuffle of being unpacked and repacked and unpacked again over the course of the two seasons the Mercantile had been open. I wasn’t sure how sharp the edges of the blades actually were, but I didn’t want to find out by way of some kid’s bloody finger.
You can’t buy one of those without an adult present, I called out to the boys.
This wasn’t exactly a lie. Perhaps no county, state, or federal law required the boys to have an adult present in order to buy a hatchet, but I certainly wasn’t going to let a little kid buy one without a responsible adult there to approve the purchase. Also, kids that young seldom had twenty bucks in their pockets, so I counted on the mention of buying to remind them that they couldn’t afford the tool.
The boys seemed to have forgotten I was there and looked surprised and a bit embarrassed when I spoke. Once they realized I wasn’t going to let them play with a hatchet before they bought it, and I wasn’t going to let them buy one without an adult to ok the purchase, they left the store. I was relieved no one had been hurt and I no longer had to babysit.
The boy who came in later and expressed interest in the hatchets was older–probably closer to 11–but still too young (in my opinion) to have unsupervised access to a tool with the potential to do so much damage.
This older kid was a charmer in a real Eddie Haskell sort of way. He was very polite and smiled with all his teeth at me, but he seemed totally insincere. I suspect he would have kissed my hand and told me I was beautiful if he thought it would have gotten him what he wanted.
He asked me if we sold knives. I directed him to the knives in the glass display case. He was hoping for something bigger, maybe something that had the name of the place where we were printed or engraved on it. I assured him we had only the small, plain ones.
He walked around the store looking at the merchandise, all the while smiling and chatting me up. Then he saw the hatchets. He picked one up and admired it, so I told him what I’d told the younger boys: You can’t buy one of those without an adult present.
He sighed and returned the hatchet to the wooden crate with the others. He walked over near where I stood and said with a dreamy look in his eyes, I just love knives!
He said it the way another kid might say, I just love puppies or I just love baseball or I just love ice cream. I was totally creeped out by the kid.
You have to have an adult present to buy a knife too, I told him while making my too bad face. Realizing I wasn’t going to let him play with or buy a hatchet or knife without adult supervision, the kid walked out of the Mercantile. I was glad I didn’t have to be alone with him anymore.
After that, no one noticed the hatchets again for weeks. I always wondered what was going on when a previously unpopular item suddenly got a lot of attention. Had the stars aligned in just the right way to promote hatchet interest? Were those kids on a field trip with a Junior Hatchet Lovers of America group?