If you exited I-81 and drove on Stoney Creek Road towards Edinburg, VA you would be forgiven for not noticing his garage, a non-descript two-bay one with its back wall built on the bank of Stoney Creek. Its plain and hidden presence defined him, but not his work.
For years I lived in the Shenandoah Valley before I noticed the two-word sign stating the presence of his garage. An entrance door next to the two bay doors opened to a small, cluttered office from where he operated the garage. Opposite the door sat his desk on which his computer competed for space with parts catalogues and his ever-present coffee cup. The well-used coffee maker sat on a shelf behind him– always ready to serve anyone who asked. One or two chairs sat for the customers who wanted to wait and read the Daily, but since he was always between shop and computer, it was best to stay moving with him. That way you could gather information about the problem with you car and if you sat you may miss a comment of his about life and its challenges. For instance, had his son not told me once when I asked where his father was, I never would have known of the prostate cancer. He was, his son told me, just doing what must be done with another challenge of life. His strong faith gave him that type of serenity, even in the face of cancer.
He and his son worked in the bays making repairs, and the father had the confidence to hire a young high school graduate to help with the work of their busy garage. He believed in the boy, but he also trusted his son and himself to be teachers of what vocational school had left out of the boy’s education. The novice is now a mechanic, and like all of us, he benefitted from time spent with the master of engines and life.
No television was mounted on a wall, but one had a display of his grandchildren in 4-H competition at the county fair. A hall tree in the corner behind the door was full of hanging, clean uniforms for the three workers. However, the office was warm and inviting if you wanted function over form. It was designed for work and conversation. If you wanted glitter, you would have been better served elsewhere.
An educator, not a mechanic, I know enough of my cars to know when I needed someone like him. Whenever I called for an appointment, he would get me in quickly if I sounded frantic, but if not he would ask, “Can you come over at….” making it sound as if I were doing him a favor by coming by. Every time he serviced a car of mine, I went away feeling great about the work but most of all about the conversation we had shared. It also seemed that any vehicle could be repaired there. Once when I went, a large John Deere tractor was parked in front of one of the doors. Too large to fit in one of the bays, it was being repaired outside. But no matter, good, honest work could be performed anywhere.
He and I are almost identical ages, close to three-quarters of a century old. But I never called him by his given first name. For a multitude of reasons, Mr. seemed the best address for him. It was a deference that I made out of respect for such a Christian and craftsman. As our relationship grew, he came to accept my referring to him as Mr., and it was an unspoken understanding between two older men.
It’s been over three years since we moved from the Shenandoah Valley, but I still can see him behind his cluttered desk checking his computer to order a part. I still hear the gentleness in his voice and its belief that if he does not know how to correct a problem in a car, his son will sort it out and find the solution. His confidence was not arrogance, but belief in something larger than himself.
A few days ago a friend told me of his being in Winchester Hospital with COVID-19. This morning, January 25, 2021 at appropriately 7 AM he died as his wife and two children loved him. We all did.
Ernest Hemingway defined courage as “Grace under pressure.” That is him: A life full of grace, love, and wisdom. He was one of the best of us.