Sunday, May 24, 2009

Prestegard’s Fix It Shop

One of the things I like best about being part of a small community is the characters who make it. Last fall I bought a refurbished riding mower from Prestegard’s Fix-It Shop in Cathlamet, WA. I never thought I’d be the owner of a riding mower, but 21 acres of reed canary grass that will grow to 7’ in a summer is way too much grass for a tempermental push mower, and I couldn’t afford a real tractor. The price was good. We pushed it together up the ramps into the back of my truck. Mr Prestegard wheezed and said, “If it gives you any trouble, just give me a holler, I’ll fix it for you.”

It gave Will trouble all winter, as he was caring for the farm in my absence. He finally gave up on mowing. I couldn’t get it to work when I got home, either, so I took good Mr Prestegard at his word and called him yesterday, now that it stopped raining for a while. He said he’d come by today. At 4pm I called to check, and got the best apology/excuse I’ve heard in a long time.

“Oh, I didn’t forget about you; I just forgot.”

There is logic in there somewhere.

“Let me see, I can come out now.” He repeated the directions very carefully. It’s a small town, with not a single traffic light in the whole county, and he had all of 3 turns to make from his shop on the hill to my farm on the island. He was thorough, and enumerated just about every house he would pass on the way.

Good Mr Prestegard is about as deaf as he is forgetful. “Do you live in a mobile home?” He asked.

“No, I live in a barn.”

“You what?”

“I. Live. In. The. Barn.”

“Oh, in the barn.”

He pulled into the drive in an old tan pickup whose engine registered about 3 on the Richter scale, and a matching trailer in case he needed to take the mower to the shop.

He was good. Within 10 minutes of tinkering in my driveway, he figured out the problem and jury-rigged it to run with minimal quirks. We chatted about this and that as he worked. Former owners of my farm are often a favorite topic among the old-timers. Once he got the mower to cooperate, he had an epiphany. Perhaps it was the hands-on connection with the machine that sparked it. He stood up, removed his baseball cap and ran his hand over his bare scalp.

“This is a mower you bought from me.”

“Yup, last fall.” I had mentioned that about 4 times already, each time I called and again when he arrived. More than anything, his comment gave me pause to appreciate the rural small-town-ness of Mr Prestegard’s lawn mower house calls for perfect strangers who babble nonsense over the phone.

He wouldn’t accept payment, but agreed that he liked garlic and kale, so I walked him slow and wheezing to the garden, and pulled him some fresh green garlic and a bag of greens.

“Wow, this is big,” he said of the garden. “She just has a little one up there.” I think he was referring to his wife.

“What happened to your barn?” He asked.


“The siding is gone.”

“The prior owners tried to renovate it, and left it like that.” I really wish I had the funds to renovate it properly, but I simply don’t, so I watch it sag a little more each year.

“That milk room where you live?”

Old-timers recognize a milk-room when they see one, and it made me smile. The dairy processed milk here in years past.

“Looks like it stays cool in the summer.” He added.

“It does.”

Some of our conversation seemed coherent, but I also appreciated the randomness of how he responded more to things he saw around us or to things in his head than to anything I might say. The point was just to be standing in the garden and connecting with another human being.

Mr Prestegard rumbled out the driveway, and I set to mowing the knee-high grass. Ah, a working machine is a joy to use. Even if it is a riding lawnmower.