On Saturday we received a phone call that Mr. Fee could not overcome the blood lots in his leg and the pneumonia in his lungs. A man we loved. They don’t come any better than Mr. Fee. I wrote a poem and a memoir about him in my book. Here is the memoir. If an angel with a broken wing comes up to Mr. Fee, I’m sure he’ll know how to fix it.
I Know a Man Half Deaf
I know a man with ears half deaf and eyes half blind, who each day awakens to the call of his house-mate and a breakfast of her biscuits and gravy, a garage full of tools, and his cars and trucks. Mr. Fee lives across the alley from me and his garage has one of every hand tool known to man and power ones too.
I saw this man, with my own two eyes, take an old beat up pickup truck with rear tandem wheels, and remove the bed, rebuild the engine, get a junkyard dump-truck box, figure and draw and re-draw, design and weld together the frame and even build, assemble and attach the hydraulics, until he had a dump truck. Which he painted black and brown and red and I took a photo of him standing proud, grinning, beside it.
When he stood back and admired his work, he said he never “gradgeated” high school because of a wreck. When Mr. Fee, at the age of 16, “had bought myself an old 32 Ford and shined it all up and got ‘er running and then loaned it to a friend. The friend wrecked the Ford into a new Buick and the friend then left town, and this man, then a boy of 16 heard his father say, “You’ll have to quit school son, that car he used was yours and you’ll have to pay to fix that Buick.”
“And so I did and got a job in a gas station on East Platte and paid off the repairs of that new Buick and then learned car mechanics.” Even though he has no degree on paper, he is a professor of smooth-running valves, the logic of carburetors, and the seams of a beautiful weld. Mr. Fee has a bachelor’s degree in scraped knuckles and prized swear words, a master’s degree in nuts and bolts and a doctorate in car repairs and the philosophy of combustible engines.
Mr. Fee, with a face of a polished fender, is pushing 75. Yes, he wears hearing aids yet can hear a car purr softer’n a kitten. Forgets his glasses and squints to read directions and has stubby scarred fingers, a car mechanic’s knuckles and hands with scars on scars. If you bring something to him to fix, he’ll never say he can do it, but will look you right in the eye and say, “We’ll give ‘er a try.” And you come back next day and sure enough, he’s welded that paper-thin steel and got your handle back on your son’s little red wagon.
I nearly caused a divorce once because I said to my wife, “Honey, if we plane-wreck on a stranded island and it comes down to a toss-up between you and Mr. Fee, I’d rather have Mr. Fee cause he’d surely fix whatever I need to get me home.”
Mr. Fee loves oatmeal cookies, smiles through old teeth, constantly wears a war paint of grease smears, and despite his lack of that high school diploma, he’s a master in the logic of timing gears, fuel pumps, shock absorbers, vacuum hoses and a philosopher of drive shafts and gear ratios, and all so wise in the way of chugging carburations. Lacking medical credentials he can do CPR on a car and yes, when pressed to perform, Mr. Fee probably can mend a broken heart or weld the crack of dawn.