My Therapist at Ace Hardware

“Where can I find steel wool?” The Ace Hardware greeter directed me to Aisle 5, where I found it on the bottom shelf. I was looking for the coarsest kind to plug up the many holes in our house that led to the crawl space. I had done a quick survey and found at least three gaps where pipes went from the baseboard heating or from appliances down through the floor to the crawl space, a place where one hoped never to have to go.

And what is so repellent about our crawl space? It is home to mice, of course, which is nothing new and part of country life. But wait, as they say on late night TV, there’s more! Let me back track a couple of weeks.

Roberto and grandson take in the Grand Canyon, oblivious to what is happening at home

We took a short trip to Grand Canyon and while we were gone our cat-sitter Miranda called us to report that our cats were delighted with their new companion, a three-foot snake which she found on the rug in our bedroom. It was a good thing that I was in our hotel room and not near the canyon or I surely would have leapt in when I saw the photo of Miranda, clearly in our bedroom, beaming and holding the snake by the head while it wrapped around her arm. She likes snakes and took it to her house to live…outside I presume.

Miranda the Magnificent with the snake she found in our bedroom

If you saw my post about the giant pink snake in the tree you will understand how deep my fear of snakes runs. By the time we got home I was a wreck. I forced myself inside and walked from room to room, eyes glued to the floor, flinching at a computer cord, a snake-like cat toy, even shoe laces. Anything long and thin was a source for panic. Clearly we had to find every possible snake access and plug it up.

So there I was, sitting on the floor inspecting the bins of steel wool when a young woman in a red Ace Hardware polo shirt asked if I needed help. I looked up and saw a smiling 20-something, with short black hair and a piercing or two. On the verge of tears, I explained that just that morning I had found the second snake to invade our house. This one, much smaller than the first, (could there be a nest of baby snakes???!!!) had apparently been killed by our cats. I was so afraid of snakes, I explained, and I figured that the best way to keep them out was to plug all access, hence the steel wool.

She listened thoughtfully before speaking.

“Of course, you need to plug those holes — you can’t have snakes in your house. I would recommend this expanding spray foam. It will fill the holes and dry hard. Snakes can push steel wool out of the way if they want to. They are very strong, but this foam will stop them.”

She handed me a canister and I thanked her, but she went on, stooping down to my level.

“You know, I was very lucky. My uncle loved snakes. He had a boa constrictor.” I probably made a face but she went on. “I spent a lot of time at his house, and one day when my mom came to get me, that boa was wrapped around my body – I was about five and it wasn’t squeezing me at all, just gently hugging me. Every time I went over there, it came and wrapped around me. It loved me, and I loved it. In the summer I would walk outside with the snake around me. It always let me have my arms free, so sometimes I would hold a book and read stories to the snake as we walked. Those were great times. I was really lucky.”

I was waiting for the “so there’s nothing to be afraid of, snakes are kind, you should get over it, etc.”  Instead she said, “But you have a phobia and that’s a serious thing. We need to get those holes plugged up.” We examined the different foam canisters and chose one especially for pests. I thanked her, got to my feet and left for home.

I thought about her story and found that, rather than revolting me or freaking me out, it gave me real pleasure. The picture of her walking around the garden reading to her boa buddy made me smile. There are lots of ways of relating to snakes and I do not have to be locked in my version. I’m not saying that at this point I am able to free myself of the phobia, but it is very helpful to have a different version to draw on. My Ace Hardware therapist understood that and generously offered her story — an alternative narrative about snakes — rather than trying to talk me out of my phobia. She was respectful, sensitive and knew what I needed. What more can one ask from a therapist?

Note:  I realize I am on a roll with stories of strangers helping me deal with fears. See last month’s it just me, or have you been lucky in this way, too?

12 thoughts on “My Therapist at Ace Hardware”

  1. Great writing, grand therapy and nifty photos, Lucy!
    I love the folks at our Santa Fe Ace Hardware; I, too, have had lovely, helpful visits with them –– in my case, about how to choose the best paint to color walls for an effect that was hard to describe. Perhaps the same young woman helped me who helped you –– so smart and kind and patient –– and now, sometimes I get the urge to just stop in and look for a hammer or a flashlight, just to get some good Ace vibes.
    While I have no desire to get wrapped up in a snake, I have sure enjoyed being enraptured by your story!

    1. You’re so right I could have gone online, chosen something based on whatever and never been enriched by the story and the human touch.

  2. I love this story too. (Reminds me of high school when a friend lent me his boa and I carried it into art class. It didn’t go over well.) But, back to your post, I so appreciate people who shake up old beliefs that don’t serve me anymore. Your Ace friend sounds like a gem. Thanks for sharing. This blog is the BEST.

  3. Ace is the Place for me too. But like Elizabeth, primarily for the staff’s helpful hardware-related knowledge. Now just where do you think this “twenty-something” gained all that wisdom? BTW, I hate mice and am forever trying to keep them out of our cabin or catching those that foil my attempts, Boy, I bet a snake would solve the problem…

    1. Ah, yes, the beautiful interconnectedness of nature’s creatures…I know what important contributions snakes make, including keeping the mouse population down, but personally I’ll take mice any day.

  4. I was trying to remember where Ace Hardware in Santa Fe was, so that I might perhaps remember this good woman. I only lived there for 12 years, and I must have gone there multiple times. Ah well! She sounds great; empathy on such a helpful level. I don’t ‘get it’ – why people are so deathly scared of snakes – I know many people are. Unfamiliarity breeds contempt? Just plain lack of knowledge about the animal concerned? The guy who stacked my wood for next winter here can’t EVEN talk about snakes (never mind about how he feels.) When I was a kid in Malaysia, we had little whip snakes that we kept in our pockets and took out on our desks at school. There’s no doubt you don’t mess with certain snakes. Big pythons, in particular instance. Rattlesnakes. I saw my Dad shoot a cobra on the roof of a shed in our yard. He had to, there were small children in tow. Most snakes, though, run away when you get close to them. What I do know is that they are becoming increasily endangered because of, well, the normal stuff, the encroachment of people living in their habitats; thousands run over on the roads. And then there are lots that are just killed because people are afraid of them. That’s the sad one. Do you think it’s back to Adam and Eve and the serpent?!! What a thought.

    1. AS I have said before, you need to write a memoir, and I know that these snake stories would not even come close to being the most astounding parts. I’m working on my phobia, and apparently snakes are “stepping up” to help me out….

  5. The snake phobia, the one about spiders, and the one my mother has about rats and similar rodents (I know she would take the snakes over the mice any day!), all seem to be widespread but not universal (I, for example, happen not to have any of those). So I think there must be a reason for the phobias to exist that may or may not be “curable.”

    1. very interesting, Margaret, and how lucky you are to have none of these creepy, crawly, slithery phobias. I somehow feel you must be a superior being — able to embrace all creatures without prejudice. I am ashamed of my phobia and hope to get over it. I used to be terrified of flying, drank myself silly just to survive the flight, and I got over it. I just got tired of myself being that person. It was boring and took a lot of energy, being that afraid. I think it was relatively quickly that I just switched it off, gave it up, went cold turkey. I can revive the phobia if I think about it, but I just choose to pretend I am like everyone else, assuming everything is going to be fine, doing my crossword puzzle, sipping (not gulping) my bloody mary.

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