My father, for as far back as I can remember, was always working on some sort of project around the house. I can recall him fixing leaky faucets and running toilets on several occasions. My father replacing broken vacuum cleaner bands and frayed toaster chords was a common sight during my childhood as well. His motto was most-likely, “Why pay someone to do something if you can do it yourself?” In fact, I’m pretty sure I actually heard him say those exact words a time or two. Apparently, my father was willing to attempt just about any handyman project imaginable, many times learning as he went along, so he could save his family of six a little bit of money. He probably enjoyed working on his vehicles most of all. What father wouldn’t mind spending some time in the garage with four active children occupying his house?
My father failed at passing down his automobile repair knowledge to his eldest son, but I assure you it wasn’t for his lack of trying. After I had reached a certain age he began insisting that I accompany him out to the garage and “help” him work on his car. The first couple of times weren’t so bad, but holding a flashlight while my father did everything else was not sufficient enough for keeping my interest. I’m not saying I should have been allowed to do more because I am well aware I wasn’t even that good at holding the flashlight. It’s quite possible when my father finally realized I was not going to be the family’s next mechanically inclined prodigy that he then placed all of his remaining hope in my younger brother. That certainly did not bode well for him because still to this day I am a mechanical genius compared to my brother.
If truth be told, I think the main reason I did not follow in my father’s footsteps was due to my lack of enthusiasm. It simply wasn’t easy for me to get excited about the probability of scraping a knuckle or jamming a finger as I had seen my father do on numerous occasions. The thought of getting my hands dirty wasn’t all that appealing either; however, it was an entirely different matter whenever my grandpa from Missouri came to town. He usually had something amiss, going on underneath his Chrysler’s hood, that he wanted my father to address, and I always hoped to be included in the action. My father had learned most of his mechanical expertise from his father, so I’m not sure why he needed his son’s advice. Maybe the student had become the master, or maybe my grandpa was just looking for some cheap labor. Quite possibly though it may have been my grandpa’s attempt at bonding with his eldest son during his visits. The reason did not matter one iota to me as long as my wish for partaking in the ritual, of men congregating around an ailing vehicle and shooting the breeze, came true.
I can recall one particular Sunday morning, shortly before heading off to church, when my grandpa, my father, and I were experiencing the manly tradition firsthand. The gathering was surely a sight to behold: three generations of McCleary “men” tinkering on one gold car, conveniently parked in the driveway, for all of the neighbors to see. Well, actually my father was doing all of the tinkering. My grandpa was sipping on a hot cup of coffee, and I was just standing there pretending to know what the heck was going on although I wasn’t fooling anyone. All three of us knew that I knew absolutely nothing about the workings of an automobile. My father went inside the house, for only a few seconds, but that’s all it ever took for my grandpa to get me in some sort of trouble.
Before my father had left the scene something had fallen through the gaps, between the Chrysler’s engine and whatever else is under a car’s hood, and my grandpa decided now would be the ideal time for me to retrieve the dropped object. I can’t remember what had fallen through the cracks and was lying underneath the vehicle. I don’t know if it was a nut, a bolt, a screwdriver, or a wrench. It may have been a Johnson rod for as much as I know about cars, but that’s really beside the point. My grandpa had made a request, and as his eldest grandson (and young admirer) I did not want to disappoint. However, I was well aware that I should not honor his request, so I reluctantly said, “I can’t.” The Missouri farmer responded with, “sure you can,” and that’s all I needed: some encouraging words from my grandpa, and nothing else I could possibly have been told beforehand seemed to matter.
In no time flat I found myself lying face down on the dirty pavement. I began inching forward on my belly (military style), under the vehicle, to recover the seemingly all-important object. At the precise moment I could feel the “Johnson rod,” with the tips of my fingers, I heard my father yelling at me to get out from underneath my grandpa’s car. Busted! I could already tell from the tone of my father’s voice I was in trouble, but I wasn’t sure what the punishment was going to be; therefore, I hurriedly scooched myself backwards, out and up from underneath the vehicle, because I didn’t want to expose my buttocks for any longer than I had to in case a spanking was what he had in mind this time. I was donning my Sunday best and was old enough to know better than to crawl between the grimy automobile and the dirty pavement when wearing them. In addition, my father most-likely had warned me not to get my church clothes grubby prior to congregating around the Chrysler. My father may not have been successful at passing down his handyman and automobile repair expertise to the next generation, but both he and his father were very successful at leaving me with some special memories.