The Garage

Our house in the Panhandle was an old two-story farmhouse that had been moved into town sometime in the 1940s and rocked with big pieces of rock and driftwood. The mortar between the rocks was covered with a large bead of mortar, giving it an unusual look.

Like happens in a lot of small towns, it was known by the name of the people who originally lived in it — the Hintergardt house. Mrs. Hintergardt was a well-loved lady in Gruver, an artist. She had planted pretty, flowering bushes all around the house. More than once I was asked with a warning tone, “You’re not going to cut down any of the bushes, are you? You know Mrs. Hintergardt planted those.” We felt like we had a responsibility to keep the house up, the grass green and the bushes lush. More than once I fell down on my responsibilities.

One thing bothered us about the house — it was lacking a garage. We had always had some kind of shelter for the vehicles, and besides that, we had stuff that needed a place to be stored. When it came time to plan building a garage, how could we make a driveway and garage that wouldn’t ruin the charm of the house? The answer was a rear-entry garage. Our drive would come off the alley and the garage would be in the back yard. There was plenty of yard there.

Mike got busy planning. This wasn’t going to be an ordinary garage. It would be big with enough room for all his tools, for working on cars, for storage and for any other projects (and for all the tables he would build in the future). My only request was that the roof might have a steeper pitch than normal so it would look like it belonged with the house.

The slab was poured, and Mike’s parents came up for an extended stay to help. The walls went up and sometime along in here, with all that room in the attic of the garage because of the steeper roof, he started considering a two-story garage. Why not?

He built a stairway that went up the front wall. They were good stairs; sturdy stairs. The upper level became a long, narrow workshop. The low-ceilinged areas on either side of the room were closed off for storage with little Sheetrock doors to get inside.

On the side facing the street we put an octagonal window upstairs. And one year our son gave Mike an eagle weather vane, so from the street, along with the house you saw the roof of the garage with its little window, and the weather vane. It looked like a barn might have been moved in to town with the house. The neighbors approved.

The garage had nice, insulated doors, electrical wiring separate from the house, more outlets than our little house had, cable, phone and fluorescent lights every few feet so that there wasn’t a dark corner inside. And it was long. You could get two small cars, or at least a car and a half in just one side of it.

It didn’t have an air conditioner. Even though Mike insulated it well, the upper level could be an oven. The lower level stayed cool most of the time. Because the alleys weren’t paved, the garage was almost always dirty. If you haven’t heard, the wind blows in the Panhandle. It brings dirt from farms in Kansas and Oklahoma with it. And with every rain or snow, the vehicles would track parts of the alley in also. The floor of the upper level creaked, because the two-story plan hadn’t been fully developed when the ceiling for the first level was put up.

But still, it was a garage to be proud of. The other night we were remembering the garage and missing it and hoping it was serving its present owners well. We have a garage here, but it’s not the same. Partly because it’s not big and not two-storied, but mainly because Mike didn’t build it. When you put so much effort into projects, they become part of you.

When I think of our garage, two pictures come to my mind. I see it as people on the street driving by would see it — a pleasant-looking companion to the little rock cottage with all the pretty bushes. And I see it at a point during construction when the ceiling was up for the bottom level, but before the roof was up.

One evening after Mike and his dad had stopped work for the day, Mike disappeared. I found him outside sitting in a lawn chair up on the ceiling of the unroofed garage. He was just sitting there, looking out over his and his dad’s handiwork, enjoying the view from up high. He did that every night, as long as he could, until the roof was up.

 From 2003

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