The Fix It Man
Nov 6, 2006
The other night we plugged too many appliances on one circuit and kaboom. Darkness fell. We rerouted the plugs and then called the landlord about the wiring. The stove and the washer stopped working that night too. The repair man came to fix the trouble. At first I worked at my desk while he was tinkering in the kitchen. I was listening to the soundtrack from "The Divine Secrets of the YaYa Sisterhood". I asked him what kind of music he liked in case what I had on was making him throw up. I didn't want his fix-it ability to be impaired because he would have preferred Conway Twitty or Celine Dion. Anyway, he liked it. Every now and then he called me and I handed him a tool from his box or said "Yes", or "No" while he flipped the circuit breakers.
It turned out that the oven didn't work because we had fiddled with the timer buttons trying to figure out how to use the timer, which we still didn't figure out, but we managed to disconnect the oven functions while we mindlessly fiddled. So all of you out there in oven land, before you call the repair man to fix your oven, make sure you set the timer buttons correctly.
Anyway he looked at the other wires and replaced another connection and then before he left we started talking. He was a big man with a kind face. We talked a little bit about music and his work and then he began to tell me stories about living in this part of rural Virginia. He had a charming local accent and used language in a way that I couldn't even begin to try to represent here. What I mean is he had kind of a lilting, old fashioned way of expressing himself. The conversation flowed into stream of consciousness story telling, where one story was interwoven and overlapped into the next, mostly stories of growing up in the fifties in Virginia with no electricity.
There was the story of his large family visiting another family for Sunday dinner and the fascination he felt towards a water dipper that the family owned which was hand tooled from a coconut shell. As an aside he explained about the buckets of water carried out to field hands who used a shared water dipper for a drink. This lady had evidently once made a coconut cake and then, because nothing was thrown away, the coconut shell had been made into a dipper with a wooden handle. The visiting boy began urging his mother that he was thirsty and needed a drink of water, because he so badly wanted to experience drinking from the coconut shell dipper.
That story wove into the story of visiting his grandmother every week and how he and his brothers had the job of carrying water the equivilent of about two city blocks from the spring to her house. This was a weekly chore that one could not decide that one didn't feel like doing on any particular occasion -- one did it or one received the promise fulfilled of a healthy parental whipping.
He told me how he taught himself to do repair work. One of the first things he learned to repair were holes in his grandma's old pots. There was some kind of gizmo you could buy and insert on both sides of the hole and screw it together and it would give the pot another lifetime of wear. If it wore out after that it was used outside to water flowers or whatever.
He said everything was a community event, kind of like the way the Amish people join together for barn raisings. He said if hogs were butchered, then all the neighboring folks gathered and did it together. They also did different kinds of harvesting together. One event he related with great fondness, was gathering at a certain woman's house for hair cuts. The men played cards while the women and children shucked butterbeans. Maybe some downhome music was playing in the background, while this woman cut all the boys' hair with clippers for 25 cents a head. Her son would wander around with a pocket knife and pretend to take off a chunk of ear while she was clipping. All this while the mist rose over the evening fields and a sense of community was engendered.
This amiable man touched on the delights of sitting on a bridge with a fishing pole, not caring if anything bit or not, just enjoying the bumpety bumpety of cars going over, and the meditative peace that came from enjoying the serene summer night and a moment to collect his thoughts.
By that time he had called the landlord and settled the bill and then he spoke a few more moments about his faith. It struck him that his visiting a certain person on a certain day was not coincidence. Sometimes, for example, he would meet a lonely widow whom his visit would cheer up and then he felt like his work had a deeper meaning in the great human scheme.
I told him he should record his stories for posterity. He liked that idea.
I walked him out to the truck and he drove off and I was warmed inside by the thought of the people of this county, and their stories of growing up and what they went through and how it's all a part of story of the world.
[ written on Feb 1, 2004 ]
Kimmy Sophia Brown has loved humor and music and freedom for as long as she can remember.She is especially passionate about the environment and caring for animals.
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