'Can you fix these again for me, please?'
'Oh..ummhh. You want to sew or patch?'
'Ya know, whatever you can do would be great.'
'Ok, twelve dollars. Later today?'
'Awesome, thank you.'
So for the third time in two years I brought in my trusted old formerly black Levis to the tailors for some much needed repair. The seamstress at this shop is a stocky woman, all business and as I found out from the very first time I trusted her with a sewing project, she is very good at what she does. She owns the shop with two other woman all of similar stature and background, maybe eastern European? I hadn't been here in a while, maybe two years and when I finally returned I was expecting to find my old pal Joe the tailor but he wasn't anywhere to be found and neither were his hundreds of yellow singing birds. The shop still had his name but nothing was the same once you decended the three steps into the shop, situated right on a corner twenty feet away from a very busy four lane thouroughfare.
Before I became unemployed over two and half years ago, I used to come to see Joe and his birds all the time. I had a little extra money then and I could afford to make flimsy excuses to see Joe and his birds.
'Joe, one of my buttons is loose.'
'Oh, come over here by the window, I'll fix it now.'
And then of course we would talk about his birds. We always talked about his birds and sometimes we really couldn't hear each other very well because the singing would crescendo and a flurry of movement would happen and all the tiny yellow birds seemed to be flying at once in the dozens of cages he had throughout the store. Then just as quickly, they would all perch as if listening to us talk to each other. Joe was obsessed with his birds and I swear he had a name for each one because he could point each one out and tell me it's history and when he got it and where, he knew them all by heart even though every bird looked exactly the same to a layman like me.
And when it came time to pay I would go to the register where his wife was always standing with that resigned look of someone who has negotiated hundreds of compromises, weary, a little roll of her eyes, a little upturned grin and,
'Two dollars please.'
Joe the Tailor was an institution in my neighborhood. Everyone knew Joe and his birds and so when I returned from my two year absence I was crushed to hear that he had died, suddenly and without warning. The stocky woman, the new owner didn't have many details, even when I asked about the birds, she simply didn't know. No one seemed to know what happened to Joe and the birds or his wife. The shop closed for a few days and reopend the following Monday with new ownership but with the same name. I was glad that the old hand lettered and faded sign with his name would remain there, some things should never change but they do.
So my first visit back expecting to see Joe I had a real job for him and I was eager for the the visit. I had just gotten the new job I still have and had bought a second hand nylon down jacket, black of course, lucky me and it had a tear across the chest area and the down was spilling out. Someone had given up on this perfectly good jacket that looked as though it was never worn, all because of a tear, it cost me $20.00. Not expecting miracles because nylon is almost impossible to repair without the 'appearance of a repair, I handed the jacket to the seamstress,
Can you fix this please, it doesn't have to be perfect?'
'Sew or patch?'
'Whatever you think.'
When I returned the tear was gone and I really had to put my face right up to the repair to even know it was there.
'How did you do that?'
She just shrugged her shoulders and modestly said nothing but,
'Fifteen dollars please.'
I can't date my jeans exactly but I've had them at least fifteen years probably longer and I just can't let them go. They are a part of my history, they've walked with me through some really tough times and never failed me, never disappointed like so many things can these days.
They're Levis button downs with copper rivets and that little red Levi tag on the rear right pocket and they were black once but over the years and the hundreds of washings, I wash them everyday, yeah, i'm a little obsessed about lots of things too, they are now this warm nuanced grey. I love the look and feel of old jeans and the way the denim is textured and catches the light and holds little stains.
I wore these pants on the first official date with my wife and I was more than a little nervous because it was a 'pick up and drive somewhere date' and the vehicle I was driving was not everyones' idea of the perfect car. First impressions, especially first car impressions sometimes turn relationships and my '79 Ford F150 flatbed turned heads wherever I drove it so I really didn't know what kind of reaction to expect.
I found this old truck on the front line of a gas station in my neighborhood a few years earlier, it was faded creamy white and had a 'for sale' sign in the front window. I bought it for $1000.00. that very day and the story was that a farmer from Indiana bought this truck new in 1979, to use as his farm truck. It was all original and in perfect shape and when you opened the cab the smell of '70's vinyl was heavy and unmistakeable, familiar too. I grew up on late '60's and '70's American cars and I've had an appreciation and love affair with them ever since for so many different reasons.
They were made here in America by union workers, they were really well built and designed, they just never quit especially the 283 cubic inch engine in this truck, as I learned it was Ford's best selling engine. I've always been partial to Chevrolet cars and trucks so this would be my first Ford purchase but I figured for the price most folks pay for two or three monthly new car payments, it was worth the chance. I painted it a deep blue at a local Maaco shop, $149.99, after having a visor with lights installed over the windshield and with the running lights along the roofline, it was definitely '70's authentic. I also put big tires on it for traction in the Chicago snow, it had 4 wheel drive and I built a wooden railing around the flatbed so this truck was not everyones' idea of a first date car.
It looked like a Tonka toy.
I was in one of my sad song and songwriter moods and was playing Lucinda Williams when I pulled up. I played her cd 'Car Wheels' constantly and it had just been released a few months earlier. It was for me, one of those few 'listen all the way through without skipping a song' collections that just spoke to me in so many ways; her voice clear but not perfect, a reluctant performer, profound melancholy lyrics, tight, perfectly timed and executed instrumental and harmony background, yeah, old school country influences too.
'Wow, this is your truck? Can I drive it?'
And off we went with my dates' little frame at the wheel of this enormous truck and of course she started singing along to Lucinda right away in a voice that I could tell was trained but so pitch perfect, all I could do was sit back and take it in. I learned she was not a reluctant performer, she headed a rock band in her younger days and played instruments. Her band was pretty well known in the bar and small venue circuit and they released a cd. She teaches children how to play strings and has been doing that for over 20 years and has seen the little kids sometimes 4 or five years old grow up, graduate and become young adults, she's a professor now.
I wore my pants when I moved my stuff in with her stuff we realized our stuff complimentd each others' stuff, lots of folk art, artist painted furniture and collections put together over the years from thrift stores, garage sales and retro shops. These pants walked my daughter from another marriage over to meet her for the first time, they're now best buds. I put on these pants all through the three years I was learning to cook professionally and on the day I got home and told her that it all ended because of the recession in 2007.
Those two years of my unemployment were incredibly difficult, I just recently wrote about it but she never gave up on me, never waivered in her committment even as she took on more students to cover the shortfall.
'Do you think we should sell the truck? We could really use the money.'
I asked her this question because someone had to. It's difficult and confusing to know what to do when you get in financial trouble and we were getting there quickly as credit cards started maxing out and there didn't seem to be employment on the horizon, despite my singularly focused efforts, it just wasn't happening.
'What? We're not selling that truck, I love that truck, we met in that truck!'
'Are you sur?'
"We're not selling the truck, I'll just work more and that's it.'
I've learned when she plants those feet they just don't get moved despite her small stature and she didn't do that very often so that was the last we spoke about it until I came home from the job interview that saw me wearing my pants once again and being asked to start the next day, the job I have today still.
We visited her parents over the holidays and were informed that they had finally completed the year long negotiation and signed the contracts that named them sole owner of the 100 acre farm in Indiana that was in their family for generations. We were also told that we, along with my wifes' brother were gifted the farm in their will.
I posted this comment in an excellent diary a few weeks back by Aimlessmind, titled 'When Money No Longer Gets Money'.
i really enjoyed this post, aimlessmind.Soon we'll take the truck down to the farm where it belongs. All farms need a reliable truck and there's lots of work to do, the worker bee I am is happy and the flatbed will come in handy. We're looking forward to that trip as we always do when we drive to the farm with my daughter in tow, we've been taking this trip for almost ten years together now. We've grown togther her and I as difficult times prove a relationship, we've seen my daughter grow too. She now plays piano because my wife recognized a pitch perfect song being sung quietly one day, her voice is a miracle.
i'm a creative person and have always been resourceful. i get a great satisfaction from using things i already own differently than intended, using things others have thrown away and using money less for goods and services.
my wife and i barter a lot and i guess one could say that 'bartering gets money' but i feel more comfortable thinking that bartering gets me further from money than closer. there's a deeper appreciation of the the entire process when we barter, i enjoy that.
i look forward to your series and will look at your blog soon. my wife and i have been gifted, along with her brother, the 100 acre farm that has been in their family for generations.
we're not as concerned about the possible escalting value of the land, although that seems to be happening anyway, the security is more in the eventual stability of self sufficiency, getting off the grid, growing our own food, etc.
there's more value in that, than money could ever provide
And so we always sing this song by Patty Loveless as soon as we reach the border of Indiana from our home in Chicago. It's our road song, we're coming home. My wife takes the lead and my daughter and I take the harmony.
From the comments thread on YouTube.
I left East Tennessee when I was 18. Now I'm 55 and want to go back. My family is still there. If I had stayed, I had my choice of coal mines, truck driving, textile mill or moonshining...None of which sounded appealing. I earned my education and would like to go back and help others to find their way to an education and hopefully a better life. If the government leaves us one.Her parents who've adopted my daughter and me as their own from day one, drive from Kentucky to meet us at the farm, the farm that holds so many memories for us all in our own special way. All this has been gifted to this often reluctant adult who just always wanted to know what a loving family would be like as a kid.
Man, life is really somethin' else sometimes.
2:35 PM PT: Thank you again Rescue Rangers for all the selfless and righteous work you do. You have truly changed the trajectory of my life with your encouragement. I only hope i can repay you all sometime and in some way.