You can get things fixed

Every community has its plusses and minuses, and Pendleton is no exception. Some of its strengths would be surprising were they not relatively well known- ie, that this town of 12,000 supports home-grown performances of Mahler symphonies. Its minuses- don’t think I’d report those here. What happens in Pendleton, stays in Pendleton…. Whatever its flaws and frustrations, one thing I love about Pendleton is that it is a place you can get things fixed.

I think this was first brought home to me during the great tail-coat episode some years ago. I had just gotten a new, very nicely tailored, tail coat for concerts, and some complete nincompoop let the face of an iron touch the shiny lapel, leaving an instant waffle-textured melt through on the surface.

I took that damn coat to tailors, seamstresses and old ladies in London, Cardiff, Chicago, Aspen, Seattle, Madison, Atlanta, Minneapolis and who knows where else. Everyone one of them told me to get a new coat. Somehow, in spite of this absolutely unanimous, multi-cultural and international consensus that the coat was not salvageable, I continued to try to find someone who could replace the destroyed lapel.

I was sharing this tale of woe one evening with our former board president, Richard, one day and he told me to take the ill-fated garment to a place called Tiny Tailor. I tried to explain that top people had told me that the coat couldn’t be fixed all over the US and UK, and that it seemed too much to hope for that I could get it fixed here in Pendleton. Richard gathered a few other Pendletonians around us, who all shared their stories of garments rescued from destruction by the nimble needlework of Tiny Tailor, so next time I came here, I threw the coat in my suitcase and went looking for the diminutive establishment.

I found the aptly-named venue (the entire shop is about the size of a kitchen table) about 200 yards from the Vert. I must have passed it 100 times. A very soft-spoken young women in what looked like a Menonite outfit took a look at the jacket and said she could have it ready for me in 5 days. Just like that. The repair was perfect, and she charged me about $20 for what must have been several hours painstaking work.

Like I said- Pendleton is a place you can get things fixed. Got an antique banjo that needs work- you call Vern. Whatever you have that’s broke (damaged items in Pendleton are more likely to be “broke” than “broken”), there’s probably some local character who can set it to rights.

Suzanne gave me a beautiful leather score bag for my birthday a couple of years ago, and the clasp has always been problematic- it tends to come loose. I’ve tried a few times to get it sorted, but really, Pendleton is the place to get things like this taken care of.

Now, if you’re in Pendleton and need something leather fixed, you want to go to Smith’s Boot Repair on Main. The sign says boots, but he does boots, belts, shoes, bags, cases, saddles- you name it. The proprietor, Claude, and I had been nodding acquaintances throughout my time here, but never had a conversation until one afternoon in the downtown parking lot when he drove his beautiful new pickup into the already mangled and beaten-up 35 year-old Ford pickup I had borrowed from my friend Dan. There’s not much one can do to negatively affect the appearance of a 35-year old truck, but Claude’s new model was quite banged up. He couldn’t have been nicer- he apologized and took responsibility, and there was no problem with Dan.  Dan was clear-  if anyone had to hit his old truck, it was best if it was Claude, who seems to be about the nicest guy in town.

Destiny pulled us towards a shared fate again a few years later when the fire in the local Eagles lodge burned down the symphony’s offices and the original incarnation of Smith’s Boot Repair. I always thought it was grimly funny when I would see the national coverage of that fire in Musical America or Playbill ending with some snide comment to the effect of “in addition to the symphony office, a boot repair shop was also destroyed.” It just seemed a little surreal to read that. Well, the Eagles have cashed their gazillion-dollar insurance settlement and rebuilt a palacial new lodge that has swallowed all the destroyed businesses, and Claude has moved up the road to the middle block of Main Street.

I took my score bag in this morning and showed him the offending latch. Claude is about as close as you’ll ever come to the archetype of a certain kind of soft-spoken cowboy. A man of few words. He took the latch and started rummaging around, looking for little mounting screws that he could use to re-attach it to the bag.

Finally, he gave up. “I could look all day for the right screw here and never find it- you watch the shop, and I’ll go next door to Zimmerman’s Hardware and just buy some screws.”

With that, he disappeared out the door, leaving me as the sole occupant of his shop. I looked around at the new and used boots on the shelves. I’ve always meant to buy a pair of proper cowboy boots as a memento of my time here, but they’re an expensive memento, and the last 8 years have not been the time for an American to dress like a cowboy in the UK. Maybe now is the time?  There was a pegboard with various leather oils and creams, shoelaces and strips of rawhide. A couple of lassos. Claude’s checkbook was out on the counter. For a moment, I thought that providence was teaching me a lesson about looking at life from a more relaxed perspective.

Finally, I sat down in a nearby chair and opened my Mahler score. He was gone about 20 minutes- it turns out those screws are a funny size (figures). In the meantime, I just sat there, peacefully dissecting the 2nd movement of Mahler 5 by myself in a boot shop on Main Street, surrounded by the smells of new leather and old oils, thinking that it’s probably been a long time since Leonard Slatkin got to study a score in such unique surroundings.

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About the author

American conductor, composer and cellist Kenneth Woods is Principal Conductor of the English Symphony Orchestra, Artistic Director of the Colorado MahlerFest and cellist of the string trio Ensemble Epomeo. He records for the Avie, Somm, Nimbus, Signum, MSR and Toccata labels.

Learn about Kenneth at

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2 comments on “You can get things fixed”

  1. ComposerBastard

    Did you ride the pony in the back room? Thats what I would have done if I was looking at Mahler’s 5th to get a new perspective directly from the horses mouth

  2. Pingback: Tweets that mention Kenneth Woods- A View From the Podium » You can get things fixed --

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