My fiancee’s brother, Nathan, is one heck of a builder and craftsman. He’s been up here at the farm for the past week taking care of the old red garage that I’ve been dying to get fixed up. That building has taken a beating over the years. A flood in 1996 messed up the concrete block foundation and broke up the concrete floor. That was about four years before I bought the place. Once I took custody of the garage, I had the concrete floor removed, I put a new front door on it and a coat of paint and called it good.
In the early years I quickly learned that a frost heave right in front of the double doors would make them impossible to open for about a month a year. When I built new doors I put a panel on the bottom of each that was adjustable for height. Before I did that we had an "incident" that motivated me to fix the doors. I was away for a week in Washington, D.C. and my fiancee needed to borrow my truck, which was in the garage. It was late February and the ice covered frost heave had reared its ugly head, preventing her from opening the doors. She went in the side door and found a mason’s hammer that my Uncle Rene had given me. She wailed away at the ice until she broke the handle, but she got the darn doors freed up. Fast forward a month and I was at my neighbors house and there was the head of the masons hammer sitting on his kitchen counter. He had found it on our road while walking his dog. Evidently my fiancee had left the head of the hammer on the step bumper of the truck after having broken it off in anger.
After the door fix, years went by and I crammed all kinds of stuff into the red garage. I also hit the thing a few times with my tractor, poking holes into its board and batten siding. A couple of years back I had Nathan put in a wood floor with enough wood to hold a two ton vehicle, but we didn’t have enough materials to finish the whole floor, so a section remained dirt. Now that he’s working on the garage again, the floor is finished, the garage has electricity, lights, outlets, it’s insulated, and has a wood stove. To get all this stuff done, I had to clean it out. During that process I found quite a few things that I hadn’t seen in years. A useful old hand-forged gate handle that I acquired in the 1980s, and buried under the stairs was the Panasonic Technics tuner and "Thruster" speakers that I got back in 1975. It brought back great memories of tuning into Montreal’s CHOM-FM with the external antenna, and the way the big 14-inch speakers would throb with the bass line from Heart’s "Barracuda." I found some tools and sockets I thought I had lost permanently, and a couple of cool chrome hood ornaments that I hadn’t seen in years. Next to the hood ornaments I caught something claw-shaped and dark out of the corner of my eye. It was the head of the old masons hammer. The sight brought an immediate smile as I recalled my fiancee’s encounter with the icy frost heave, and her determined attack with that very same hammer.
Discoveries in the old garage made me realize just how quickly the time has gone by. There were a good number of struggles back in the early days up here on the hill. The improvements to the property have come in fits and starts, and each improvement has made life just a bit easier.
Stumbling across the past has put today in perspective and allowed me to catch a glimpse at how far we’ve come.
Arlo Mudgett’s Morning Almanac has been heard over multiple radio stations in Vermont for nearly 30 years, and can be tuned in at 92.7 WKVT FM Monday through Saturday mornings at 8:35 a.m.