Gender Roles
by Patricia L. Hamilton

My mother always bought wedding gifts at the hardware store,
a corner redbrick facing McPherson's Furniture and my father's bank
in the first block of downtown proper, fronted by a line of date palms,
Gibbel's to everyone, even after the owner died and the family sold.
Kitchenware on the right as you walked in--mixers, pots and pans--
and along the wall, fine china. Five-piece place settings on display--
flawless white and ivory with gold or silver rims and floral borders
densely intricate or delicately sprigged in the palest pastels--
each pattern elegant, unlike the plain melamine we ate on at home.
The bridal registry--white leather embossed with silver letters--
bore the names of each engaged couple with their choices for china,
silver, and crystal carefully written out, an index of domestic desire,
teaching me to hope one day I'd be empress of my own table
with brocade napkins and impossibly thin-stemmed goblets.

Offerings on the left side of the store were more prosaic--scissors,
flashlights, canning jars, electric fans--all bathed in the bright light
pouring through the front windows, where displays of canister sets
and exotic teak salad bowls beckoned housewives inside to browse.
I never crossed the boundary into the store’s cavern-like back,
at least not on my own. If my father needed a drill bit or some caulk,
he always used the rear entrance. Whenever I tagged along,
I stuck close to his side in that dark den of saw blades and rasps,
rakes and spades hung on a pegboard wall, camping lanterns
dangling from rafters, the aisles between towering shelves
lit by naked bulbs. The way the grizzled men behind the counter
who spoke the terse, gruff language of painters and plumbers
always cut their eyes toward me as I hovered at my father’s elbow
confirmed I was trespassing where a girl could never belong.

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