The tractor’s starter stopped starting, so yesterday I pulled it and drove over the mountain to an alternator and starter repair shop in a small town not far from here. The shop comprises a single room in a larger building; it’s situated almost directly under an overpass in the low rent district of what is generally a pretty low rent town.
I have been going to this shop for all of my adult years and probably a few prior; it’s been my fortune (good or bad, I can’t say) to have pulled many a starter and a handful of alternators in my time. I’m no mechanic, not by a long shot, but here, at least, is something I can do to make myself feel useful in a wrenches-and-grease kind of way, and so it’s almost pleasing to me when I hear the distinctive click or grind of a starter on it’s way out. It’s like an offering from the gods of competency.
It was snowing when I set out, as it had been almost all day, steady but slow, and at the top of the mountain I saw how the boughs of the conifers hung under the new weight and I thought about how something as inconsequential as a snowflake can amount to so much more. I catch them on my tongue all the time and don’t even think about it, the weight too small to even consider. And still the boughs drooped.
The shop was warm. The old man who runs it was smoking a cigarette and so the air was thick with smoke, and although I don’t smoke and don’t really enjoy being around cigarette smoke, there are times when brings forward something from my past, like my father smoking his Lucky Strikes in the kitchen of the cabin I grew up in, or Martha driving her John Deere during haying, the smoke from her Camels mixing with the smell of diesel exhaust and fresh cut grass. And so sometimes I don’t really mind, and this was one of those times.
“You the guy who called?” asked the man. There was another man working in the rear of the room, which was comprised almost entirely of counters covered by starters and alternators in varying states if disassembly. There were narrow footpaths woven between the counters.
“No,” I replied. He raised an eyebrow and I somehow got the sense that he didn’t believe me, which was a ridiculous thing to think, but there it was, in that raised eyebrow. Skepticism, at least, though on what basis I have no idea. Perhaps I just looked dishonest.
I described what was going on with the starter, and he assured me he could fix it, though I hadn’t needed any assurance. I wrote my name and number on a small tag that he affixed to the starter, squinting through the smoke of his cigarette, which he’d transferred to his mouth to free his hands for tagging.
“What happened to your nose?” he asked. My nose is all scabbed up because when the boys and me were camping last week I was busting up limb wood to fit in the little sheet metal stove for the wall tent, and I was whacking at the wood pretty hard with an axe cross grain, and one of the pieces shot up and thumped me good. Bled like crazy the way head wounds do.
So I told him what happened, and he chuckled, but in a commiserating way, and said “bet that pissed you off some,” and I acknowledged that it had. Then he told me to come back in two days and I left to drive back up and over the mountain, where it was still snowing and where I thought that maybe the boughs hung even a little lower.
Though truth be told, I couldn’t be sure.
Music: A rollickin’ new one from the Turnpike Troubadours. And a real pretty offering from Amanda Shires. Enjoy.
12 thoughts on “I Couldn’t be Sure”
Life in these here United States! Thanks, Ben!
“Gods of competency.” I like that! Will have to file that one mentally away and search for just the right opportunity to use it. 🙂
So, Ben, off topic, but you had written a lot about death and I guess it is always THE topic, so I wanted to share this article I thought it was excellent: http://www.esquire.com/lifestyle/a12845872/kate-oberlin-home-funeral/
I read the story and was surprised to find out this is an unusual way to deal with a loved one who has died. I had a grandpa who died in the nineties and a little cousin who died in the early 2000’s. My grandpa died in a hospital, but was then taken home and we lived around him as a family for nearly a week. We kissed him, touched him, sang for him and took photographs with him. Same with my cousin. Honestly, I thought this was standard practice. I am from Holland though, and I haven’t been close to death for a good long while now, so things may have changed. Honestly, I can’t imagine how people would deal with the goodbye in any other way…
Yeah off topic but thanks for sharing! Wonderful story. I’m keeping it. She was my age. Life is precious and then you die.
Even when it’s not precious you die. You die if you do, you die if you don’t. It’s an outrage.
Thanks for sharing the article. It was excellent, and apropos for me. I attended a standard funeral home funeral yesterday. The speaker kept saying things like “I met with the family yesterday” and “I’m told she…”
It left such a bad taste in my mouth.
I’ve been interested in home funerals since I read Ben’s description of a friend’s funeral he attended, and this article is a great resource. (thanks for letting us get off topic here, Ben)
Nice one, Ben. Sorry about your nose… ouch.
I freak out pretty bad sometimes about the current state of things….and there’s been a couple of times I’ve been out in nature where I looked at something (real poignant moment, I can’t remember what the hell it was) and felt there were messages in there…..and then felt okay. It’s what I call ‘going to church’…except there aren’t any child molesters or stupid outfits.
Is that a picture of Rye heading out on a deer hunt?
i completely enjoyed this…it made me think of my dad…
the cigarette smoke, the raised eyebrow…smells of grease and gasoline.