By L&T Columnist Gary Damron
I’ve thought about him a lot lately. My car has a noise that my new mechanic can’t hear, but under the shade tree in his front yard, my old mechanic could fix anything. The approach to his house was always a long driveway, usually rutted, often muddy. The old farmhouse was typical, in need of repair. Whatever farming he did ended as a tax write-off each year.
He used to live in the city, moving often from rental to rental; even bought a house once after most had moved out of the neighborhood. Shouldn’t have as bankruptcy followed but he wasn’t a city boy anyway. Born in the hills of Missouri he wanted to be a farmer after he returned from the war. But a family followed, and he went to where the work was.
He could do anything, fix anything. He told me one time if there’s a job, tell them you can do it – you can figure it out once you get started. And he could. He worked as a mechanic, a fender and body man, welder, truck driver, carpenter and millwright along with other short-term occupations. Though he dropped out of school in the seventh grade he never lacked know-how or confidence.
You would usually find him outside fixing something: a fence, a pipe, a ditch, taking care of the animals or working in the garden. He was always doing something, but was never busy. He always saw you coming and would meet you at the drive.
Always glad to see you, he made you feel welcome. I’ve heard it said of him. “He never met a stranger.” He could work and talk but he couldn’t work without talking. I was with him on a construction job once and remember the boss saying, “We keep him around because he’s the best story teller we’ve ever had.”
It seemed my lot early in life to have car problems, and when you can’t afford it is when it happens. He diagnosed car problems by ear. Too rich, too lean he’d adjust it until it sounded right. Made parts out of coat hangers and tin cans, never threw anything away. Once I had a leaky carburetor on an old ’55. Parts were hard to find on a 40-year-old car but figured he could fix it. Better than that, he emerged from the barn with a smile and asked if I wanted the single-barrel or the four-barrel.
He diagnosed people by heart. He genuinely liked people yet seemed to know whom not to trust. He was loyal to a fault, but if you ever proved untrustworthy he was through with you.
Though he was a talker, he was a good listener. Always made you feel important. Always had time for people and would drop anything if you had a need.
After listening, he had a story. The older he got the longer they got, but the point was always be strong, start what you finish, anything worth doing is worth doing right: advice to make you a better man.
I think about him now when I have a problem and often as I get older. I think about him when I look up at the sky. I think about him when I look at my hands. I miss the shade tree mechanic. I miss his advice, his hugs, his stories.
Miss you, Dad.