A curious figure was seen heading stiffly down the driveway to Jim Frechettes woodworking shop off Shrewsbury Avenue Monday afternoon.
Pale and dressed in white shirt and shorts, his ghostly form was accented by the dark trim of orthopedic restraint: a neck brace, a wrist splint and a knee brace. The black line of an eye patch angled across the back of his head.
This turned out to be Jim Frechette himself, the proprietor and sole employee of the business. And he was visiting his dormant shop for the first time since a motorcycle accident April 30 in Marlboro nearly killed him.
Frechette doesn’t ask a stranger who he is or why he’s dropped in. Instead, prompted by a question about what happened to him, he relates what he knows about the crash. The driver of an Acura SUV had stopped at an intersection as required, but then tried to beat the car behind Frechette, perhaps without even seeing him on his bike. Frechette struck the side of the SUV. “My best guess is I was airborne,” he says.
He invites his visitor to a corner of the shop, where the mangled motorcycle sits covered by an old bed sheet. Its a 1966 Triumph, one Frechette bought two decades ago and restored, piece by piece, over several years. Frechette points out the busted fork, the twisted handlebars he’d just installed, and the bulbous gas tank with the dent in the top that’s laid aside on the floor. He indicates the brown leather jacket atop a toolbox; emergency personnel had to cut it off his limp body. He picks up the white helmet and studies the scrape on the crown.
Frechette doesn’t know if the scrape is from the door frame of the SUV or from the road. In fact, his understanding of the accident is based almost entirely on a police report, which included the statement of a witness. Frechette has no memory of any of it. The crash fractured his skull and put him in a coma for two weeks. He doesnt even remember leaving his shop that day. But if he was out on Tennant Road in Marlboro on a sunny Sunday afternoon, as the report says, it was because thats a good place and those are good conditions for riding a classic bike that he doesnt get to enjoy as often as hed like.
Frechette’s tone is that of a man chastened. Forty-six years old, he has a full head of gray hair with a dark clump in front. He’s never married. A lot of my life has been thisbuilding the business, he says. Ive lived hand-to-mouth. Six years ago, he bought this shop and the house in front of it, where he lives, alone; a sporting goods store rents the space at street level.
Frechette has no health insurance, and expects to have to sue to recover his medical costs. But he considers himself lucky to have a large family. His elderly parents live in Red Bank, and he has three brothers and four sisters, all of whom were due in town for their parents’ 50th anniversary when, two days after the accident, the police finally located someone to notify. A sister from Colorado extended her stay and was better than a nurse. A brother who lives in Howell has put him up since he got out of the hospital.
Frechette crosses the shop floor and digs out a photo album of his work. He builds fireplace mantels, tables, entertainment centerscustom pieces for clients with a taste for large television sets and the desire to hide them. In the book, too, are pictures of a modernistic altar and lectern he made for the chapel at Bayshore Community Hospital. Theres a series of shots of showing the construction of a canoe Frechette made with one of his brothers.
He makes his way over to the neatly-stacked pieces of wood for a wall-sized entertainment system that a client ordered months ago. She’s now asking for her deposit back because the job is overdue. Frechette understands her position, but hes got money invested in lumber and has already cut much of it for the project. He has no employees and cant yet finish the work himselftheres still some blood pooled in his brain cavity thats affecting his right eye. He’s hoping that a friend of his in the trade will be able to take the job over. Even then, though, Frechette wants to keep a hand in it, however minimal. I want to show my customers Im good for my word, he says.
The talk returns to the bike, and Frechette reflects on all the time he put into restoring it from a boxful of parts; it was “like bringing a kid upit’s just part of me,” he says, even though years passed before he started riding it again about two years ago. He mentions the helmet, and suddenly he’s overcome, fighting back tears. Thats what saved my life, he says. The medical professionals told him this would happenthat thered be a delayed realization of how close to death he’d come, and that hed be overwhelmed by the enormity of it.
Whether Frechette ever gets on a bike again isn’t something he’s given much thought to. “It will all depend on how I feel,” he says. But he’s already decided to rebuild the Triumph. Ive got to put this thing together again, he says, even if its just for putting-it-back-together sake.
A man enters the shop with length of board in his hands. He says he’s making a shelf over at the senior citizens center but doesnt have all his tools. He needs to get it down to thirty-five-and-a-half inches. Would Frechette mind cutting it for him?
Frechette appears to hesitate as he weighs the request. But he takes the wood and lays it on a saw platform. He measures out the length and throws a switch. The room comes alive with the sound of central dust-vacuuming system and, for just a few seconds, the song of a blade moving through hardwood.