Opinion

He repairs cars and, occasionally, grief-stricken lives

He pops his head into the doorway and stands there, a vision of patience and calm.

He waits until Van Vlist looks up and smiles, then gently teases Van to move his car or risk having it painted.

The old Hall-N-Sons building stands primed to get a new face in anticipation of Cedar Cove Days.

Fred Hall has wanted to paint the building since he bought it. In fact, he’s wanted to paint since he moved his business down on Bay Street, but was always too busy.

Work and life with all its richness and sadness got in the way. Now’s the time; Van must move the car.

Not that anyone would miss the business that snuggles up against Bay Street right beyond the curve, paint or no paint.

Not that anyone who knows Fred’s skills would care.

As Vlist says when Fred departs to move endangered cars, “Every town has its favorite mechanic. Someone they know they can trust without question. That’s Fred.”

It is.

I think back to two weeks prior when my brakes made a terrifying screech. I figured a new brake job would cost around $600.

A friend recommended Hall-N-Sons. They did the work for just over $200.

After that, it seemed that everywhere I went people praised Fred.

“He’s not just the best mechanic in town,” Tommy Alonzo shared. “He’s the finest man you’ll find anywhere. He’ll do anything to help anyone. I can’t tell you how much he has done for my family over the years and how much he has meant.”

The praise keeps coming. Everyone it seems uses Fred’s mechanical skills. Everyone it seems trusts him.

That makes sense. He’s been a resident of Port Orchard his entire life, living on the same street as his parents and siblings.

He started at the Union 76 or Unical Station in Bethel pumping gas, until the owner discovered his skill with cars.

He stayed at that garage for 16 years before trying his luck with a shop at his home. He endured two long years, “working out of my home with no doors to the shop and no heat, because I wanted to go out on my own and build up clientele.”

Then the place downtown came up for rent.

It’s so inconspicuous, you’d almost miss it. But not if you know Fred.

He first noticed Priscilla Ann — or Penny, as she liked to be called — when she was just a sophomore at South Kitsap High School and he was a senior. A down-to-earth farmer’s daughter, she wore dresses regularly and went to church every Sunday.

She was someone who tried to “rescue the world.” He liked that.

“She was,” he said, “my one and only.”

The raised four sons together, hence the business’ name, Hall-N-Sons. While he yearned for a daughter, a “Daddy’s little girl,” Penny reveled in the all-boy household.

“She raced dirt bikes with the boys and took part in every kind of outdoor sport,” Fred said. “We boated, skied, rode motorcycles and even hunted together. Not that she liked hunting, but she loved everything else with such a passion. And she’d play to win. She never let any of us win just for the sake of it. Never.”

The family got involved with South Kitsap Western Little League with the same passion and enthusiasm, sponsoring “Hall-N-Sons” teams, coaching and running the snack bar year after year.

“I’d walk around all the time smelling like a mixture of hamburger and engine grease,” Fred laughs.

Those were good times.

Penny wanted the chance to ride her own motorcycle, though. Fred would take her to different locations to practice, making sure, always, that there were no cars around.

She obtained her learner’s permit and became good enough to go for the license.

She got it on a Friday afternoon.

That Saturday morning the Alonzo family asked Fred and Penny to come up to Key Center for a game. They chose instead to take her first ride as a licensed motorcyclist along a peaceful stretch of back country.

She was happy that day, as happy as he had ever known her to be.

Fred doesn’t know how there came to be a car traveling in an area that he chose so carefully for its safety.

He doesn’t know why Penny crossed over into the oncoming lane.

He just remembers hearing “what sounded like six sticks of dynamite going off,” and turned to see Penny’s motorcycle on fire.

“In that moment,” he recalled, “I lost my perfect life.”

All four sons took their mother’s death differently — each hard. Fred didn’t know how to see them through their grief when his was so intense.

He regrets that he wasn’t a better father through it all.

Everyone tells me that the thin, reticent man won’t speak of that time, but they’re wrong.

Not only has Fred immersed himself in understanding grief through books and workshops and group counseling, but he reaches out to others who are going through similar losses.

“I want anyone to know that they can come to me, if they need to talk. I’m here,” he said. “I understand what it means to lose someone you loved that much.”

He befriended an elderly man who had lost his wife and took him everywhere, “even Alonzo’s Christmas party.”

“The poor man didn’t have anyone,” Fred explained, “and I have so many people here for me, my family and all my friends. They are all here around me.”

Still, the thing that Fred wishes for the most is that Penny could have known her grandchildren. He has four, the first born just months after Penny died.

“She would have loved them to death,” he said. “She would have been the greatest grandmother.”

He loves them in her place, for her. Lives for them, he says.

He does it with a tenderness he didn’t realize he had.

He knows now that he would make a better father, a better husband after six years of understanding grief and loss. Part of him doesn’t think that is fair to either Penny or the boys. But, he’s trying to be a better man, a better person every day.

And he’s staying busy.

He’d be less busy, he tells me with a laugh, if everyone changed their oil every 3,000 miles.

Mary Colborn is a Port Orchard resident.

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