COMING OF AGE: Life in Fort Hunt

Fixing, Not Throwing Away

Stories by Fredrick Kunkle, Washington Post Staff Writer | Photos by Carol Guzy - The Washington Post
Fixing, Not Throwing Away
Hiram Causley, 91, and his wife, Dorine, 82 shop at Village Hardware in the Hollin Hall shopping center. (Photo by Carol Guzy - The Washington Post)

A white-haired man needs some pointers on fixing a broken irrigation pipe for his lawn. An elderly woman takes a seat on a spackle bucket and waits to pick up her repaired window.

Then Ralph Schreiner strolls into Village Hardware, cradling an electric Black & Decker hedge trimmer. Schreiner, 87, needs a special screwdriver to tinker with his trimmer so he can get back to work on his garden.

Peering through bifocals, he watches as manager Gene Laporta tests the screwdriver on the hedge trimmer, rings it up and sends him on his way.

"The younger people -- it's throw it all away and junk it," Laporta says, watching Schreiner go. "He's going to take it apart and try to fix it. They're Depression-era."

The store, in the shopping plaza next to the Harveys' service station, stocks many out-of-date tools and items needed to care for a house a half-century old, and the staff spends a lot of time offering guidance. Laporta keeps a binder at the counter filled with contractors and plumbers whose skill and honesty he vouches for.

"This is a perfect example of what we do," Laporta says a few days later, indicating a crusty plumbing fixture an elderly customer brought in. "It's a piece of old pipe. Rotten parts. And they don't want to get rid of it."

In walks Hiram Causley, a San Francisco Giants hat crumpled on his head, needing some hydraulic fluid for a mechanical log splitter. His wife, Dorine, 82, waits up front.

Causley, who turned 91 the day before, worked for the Union Pacific Railroad in California before moving to Washington as a signal inspector for the former Interstate Commerce Commission. He said he still does the upkeep of his house on Marlan Drive. "I wouldn't go to a rest home if it were free," he says.

After the clerk, Alan Kelly, 22, finds a jug of ALCO Super Lube, Causley checks his list and asks for a bucket with wringers for a string mop.

"They're so big now, you can't wring them out by hand," he says. But no buckets are in stock.

Finally, Causley wonders if the hardware store can shorten a cane by three inches. It's made of wood and was a gift from a friend, and it even has a hame knob on it.

"You know what a hame knob is?" Causley asks.

Kelly's blank face suggests he does not.

"You remember when the big horses pulled the beer trucks? And they had all those fancy collars and things?"

A hame knob, Causley says, was one of the bracket like pieces on a harness to which the traces were attached.

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