COYLE — The trip to town had become terrifying. The constant-velocity, or CV, joint in Jerry Brush’s Subaru Brat was shot. This made the car “sloppy,” as he put it, and causing him to weave around the road as soon
as he reached highway speed.
Brush, 76, lives on the peaceful and remote Toandos peninsula.
With few affordable grocery-shopping options nearby, he needs to drive 35 miles to the Port Townsend Food Bank every week or so.
He also sees a doctor in Silverdale a few times a month.
With the Subaru in dire need of repair, Brush could drive his other car, a big old Ford Thunderbird.
But with a fixed income of $750 per month in Social Security benefits, he must keep expenses down at every turn.
The T-bird is a gas-hog — 11 miles to the gallon — so even going from Coyle
to Quilcene is costly, let alone Port Townsend and beyond.
So he drove the Subaru.
Its bad CV joint made the car hard to control, so Brush could envision veering into the oncoming lane or ending up in a roadside ditch.
“I was scared to death,” he said, adding that he feared not only for himself but for the rest of the motorists on the rural roads.
Then there was the possibility of the car just breaking down completely, in which case he couldn’t foot the towing bill.
Then came a meeting, one Brush calls the best thing to happen to him in 2019.
It was his October appointment with Maria Logan at the Olympic Community Action Programs office in Port Townsend.
He went in after saving up some of the money to replace that CV joint; he didn’t know what to expect, if anything, from OlyCAP.
After nearly five months of setting aside what he could, Brush had just $120.
The repair would cost more than three times that much.
Logan informed Brush that the Peninsula Home Fund could help.
OlyCAP administers the fund, which exists thanks to contributions from residents of the North Olympic Peninsula.
It’s designed to offer a hand up, not a handout, among neighbors.
Logan, a community support staffer at OlyCAP, explained that the maximum Home Fund grant is $350 per calendar year.
The amount was no more and no less of what Brush needed.
Mechanic Aaron Taylor of A & T Auto Repair in Port Hadlock had quoted him $470 to replace the Subaru’s CV joint.
“Oh, man. Oh, man. I’m saved,” was Brush’s reaction.
“I had no problems from that moment on.”
Logan, upon meeting Brush, was impressed by his demeanor.
“It can be hard to be cheerful when something so vital is on the fritz,” she said, “but Jerry struck me as an upbeat person despite the hardship.”
Brush, back in the Subaru, said the Brat is now “such a pleasure to drive. I’m getting 31 miles to the gallon,” so gasoline won’t eat up the cash in his wallet.
It’s not that he has an easy ride now.
Brush suffers from intense back and hip
pain, and must travel to Silverdale for injections, which don’t always give him relief.
It was decades of standing on metal decks of fishing boats, or on the concrete and steel of shipyards, that did his body in.
A machinist for Marco Marine, Lockheed, the Washington State Ferries and other companies, he worked on all breeds of boats, replacing motors and generators, working 12- and 14-hour days.
“I loved my job. I loved it,” he said.
He also loved living on his own boat in Seattle. Brush is a Pacific Northwesterner to the marrow, a lover of the blue waters, cool temperatures and green forests.
When he lived in Phoenix, Ariz., for 18 months, everything felt wrong.
“Eighty degrees on Christmas Day. Not for me,” Brush recalled.
He worked two jobs: digging ditches for the water department by day and as a bouncer in a bar by night, to save the cash to come home.
When he stepped off the plane at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, it had begun to rain.
He stood still on the tarmac, drinking it in.
Brush grew up near Star Lake in King County, and remembers swimming all summer long — and then some.
“We swam in that lake until there was ice around the edges,” and a month or so later, the water would be frozen and ready for skating.
“It was so wonderful to be alive,” he said.
These days his merciless back pain prevents Brush from exercising much.
Earlier this year he found himself much too heavy, and decided to make a change.
“I go to the [Port Townsend] library after I go to the food bank, and I check out cookbooks,” he said.
Brush had labeled himself a lousy cook, yet he taught himself to make economical dinners — and to resize them.
“Instead of a big platter full of food, I’d eat very small portions,” and after six months, he’d lost 34 pounds.
At 6 feet tall, he’s down to 230 and would like to lose a few more.
He hopes trips to the Silverdale pain clinic, as well as his lighter weight, will mean a more active life.
Brush wants to find a job.
Work sustains his body and spirit.
As he looks forward to the new year, he’s energized.
“OlyCAP, and the contributors to OlyCAP, saved my life. I couldn’t be more grateful.”
Diane Urbani de la Paz, a former features editor for the Peninsula Daily News, is a freelance writer living in Port Townsend.