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The Garage With Wings - and a Wink

By Phil Elderkin / September 1, 1995



HAVE been through two massive hurricanes in my life, one of which involved sailing through a corner of the Bermuda Triangle. That one caused the cruise-line people the permanent loss of at least one customer, namely me. I don't even like to talk about it.

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But the other hurricane, even though it did millions of dollars of damage to the six New England states and should never be taken lightly, nevertheless turned up an entire neighborhood of good Samaritans.

By 6 p.m. on Sept. 21, 1938, hurricane winds gusting close to 100 miles an hour had most of the chimneys in our neighborhood falling like pins in a bowling alley. Trees were down. Garbage cans were doing their own version of ''The Skater's Waltz.'' The telephone pole across the street, wires still attached, was bent almost halfway to the ground.

My father and I left the house after supper to drive the family car into the garage, a trip of maybe 15 steps. What could happen in the time it takes to unwrap a piece of gum?

As my father was about to put the key into the car's ignition, our garage (its doors already open) was lifted vertically off its foundation by the hurricane. If the two windows on each side of the building hadn't blown out, allowing the wind to escape, I doubt we would ever have seen that garage in one piece again.

Seconds later, however, it was back on the ground, its sides spread far enough from its foundation to give it the wide look of one of McDonald's golden arches.

By the next day, one of the main topics of conversation in our neighborhood was the future of our garage. The neighbors seemed hopelessly divided as to whether the building should be repaired or torn down.

Either way, my father said, it would require money, which at that time happened to be in short supply at our house. Finally, my mother said, ''Call Johnny Madden.''

Johnny Madden was a local carpenter who dressed like Hollywood character actor Walter Brennan, never used two words where one would do, and drove perhaps the oldest truck in the city.

A phone call brought Mr. Madden to our house for a look at the garage.

''Roy,'' Johnny said to my father, ''How do you get along with the men in your neighborhood?''

Assured that it was an amiable relationship, Madden told my father to invite 10 of them over to the house on Saturday morning and ''together we'll fix the garage.''

Curiosity, or something, had 13 men in our yard when Johnny Madden showed up on Saturday morning with 10 used steel pipes about six feet long and a sledge hammer.

Madden aligned all of the men on one side of the garage and had them push until the building was once again standing firm against its cement foundation. Then he hammered five steel poles an equal distance apart down the side of the garage to hold things in place.

Once the process had been repeated on the other side, Johnny Madden left, taking with him very few of my father's Depression dollars.

Forty-four years later while I was visiting my old home town, my newspaper training got the best of me and I drove by to see if that garage was still standing.

My wife, who was in the car, refuses to support the following claim. But I could swear that garage winked at me!