Everybody needs a Mr. Marshall. Well, maybe not today, right now. Because now new homes come with landscaping, walkways, fences, leach fields, flower beds, garden lighting, and graded driveways.
Ours didn't. That's how we got Mr. Marshall. We hadn't tacked up a notice at the Junction store where the Fauntleroy bus ended or put an ad in the Hilltop throwaway. That's because we didn't realize we needed him.
We had just moved into our brand-new, apartment-size home. And it was perfect: new appliances, oil-fired furnace, bookshelves where we wanted them, and a breakfast bar with a 180-degree sweep of Mt. Rainier. From the living-room picture window, there was an even wider view that took in misty Three Tree Point across a Chinese-scroll expanse of Puget Sound - we said it like that to everybody who'd listen.
But outside? Up until now, we really hadn't thought much about it. It had been "left natural, unspoiled" (some visiting person's words). No sidewalks, no shrubbery, no grading, no fencing - just leftover scrub madrona, Oregon-grape ground cover, and scraggly wild blackberry bushes. Trees? Well, there had been one. But what was left was just a weathered stump about five feet wide, sticking aboveground about three feet. It was in the very center of what the contractor called our sideyard. Protruding roots stuck out of the soil like tough shoulders.
Our friends said don't worry. It would be easy to get rid of. All Puget Sound hills used to be wooded with giant firs - now stumps.
Kind of a dumb piece of property to buy, our relatives told us. We didn't think so, not realizing that perhaps the stump made it so cheap.
Forget the stump, an architect friend said. The house could be set forward and to the side of the stump; worry about the thing later.
That's when Mr. Marshall showed up.
He was protected from the steady rain by a broad- brim felt hat and a well-worn yellow slicker. Nah, he said, he wouldn't come in all dripping like this. He told us he had just hooked our meter to the main water line.
"You got somebody coming for the sidewalks ?"
No, we told him, we hadn't gotten that far.
"And the leach field?"
We weren't sure what that was - but we said no.
"And the front and back steps at the lot lines?"
"And some kind of fence so everybody won't come barging across?"
"And you've got to have one of the big rural mailboxes right on the road so Jeff can reach it when you put the flag up."
"And" - here he tilted his hat back and let the rain wash his smile, "that stump - I can get rid of it for you."
It all sounded logical. Come back on the weekend, we said, and we'll talk.
Mr. Marshall didn't have a small company, didn't work for any boss, and didn't have a telephone. Contract?
No need for that, he said. He'd order the stuff from the hardware store in White Center - they knew him there - and his labor? Oh, he'd give us a slip of paper every so often, and we could leave the money in an envelope in the mailbox.
We certainly needed the work done. And we didn't have the time or the know-how. So we gave Mr. Marshall the go-ahead.
We always felt then (as we went along), and now (as we look back), that we didn't have much input. He ordered materials and had them delivered in good time, and he used them efficiently. We paid the bills, and that part was OK. But we felt that his operational methods were - well - arbitrary.
We told him we wanted three front steps. He put in four. We asked him to curve the two top steps in back. They went in straight. We put up a stake where we wanted the mailbox. He moved it 10 feet and set it there in cement. We said the leach field for the septic tank need go only to the downslant of the front lawn. He took it all the way out to the road. The sidewalk, we thought, should be plain; he created a pattern of troweled V's - for better drainage, he said. And the stump? He said you couldn't blast - too many houses around.
He'd take care of it.
He power-drilled deep holes through the stump and pounded in a chemical. This blew across the yard for days. He dug and chopped and yanked at the roots to make sooty little fires that burned for three weeks. Gradually - we tried not to let it bother us - he got rid of the thing; then he filled in the hole to lay out a lawn.
That freed him up to position the flower beds, put in a beginning hedge, and even a flowering cherry tree where the stump had been.
Eyeing things as a whole, we felt our home - outside - now really looked like one. The front and back steps, for example, were nicely proportioned. The front mailbox post met the sidewalk in exactly the right spot. No rainwater collected on the sidewalks. And in the outer leach field grew the most wonderful never-needed-tending dahlias. And in the back, Mr. Marshall's white long- board fence made the place look like a miniature estate.
Reflecting back on it, we hope that today there are some Mr. Marshalls still around in the new home areas. Because - no matter how thorough the builders have been - it seems as if there's always one thing (or two) not covered completely by the contract that needs finishing off. And this can be done better, we think, by someone other than the new owners.
Even if it is handled a little arbitrarily.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society