Friday, April 15, 2011

Things My Dad Taught Me

My dad taught me to drive, even demonstrating what to do when the car ran out of gas—he walked to town for help. Later at home in the garage, our heads together under the hood of the family car, he instructed me on the basic parts of the engine.  He pointed out the crucial difference between the radiator cap and the oil cap, noting that oil and water just don't mix.  He showed me how to read the oil dipstick and where to add the cleaning mixture for the windshield wipers.  He wiggled the spark plugs, demonstrating how to check if they had worked loose.  "If the car won't start, it might be the battery posts are corroded. You can pour Coke over 'em to clean 'em." After the basic instruction he had one last tidbit for me.  "If your horn ever starts honking and won't stop, all you have to do is pull this plug here."  Through the years the car care tips I learned from him became part of the knowledge I used without thinking. 

One Sunday afternoon forty years later I drove several of my girlfriends up into the New Mexico mountains to look at an area where my husband and I were considering buying a home.  We climbed the rolling hills through piñon pine trees and cactus, driving each street of the small rural subdivision.  The last street ended in a turn-around cul-de-sac. Occupying that secluded spot was a house that wasn't as tidy as the rest of the homes in the subdivision. It needed paint and a few nails to bolster sagging porch rails.  Three cars in various states of disrepair lounged in the front yard.  Taking the place of pride parked right by the front door was a monster pickup truck with a gun rack mounted in the rear window.

As we neared the top of the hill and the turn-around, my car's horn started to honk. No, no, I don't want to attract attention right here in front of this place.  The horn wouldn't stop.  A pot-bellied thirty-something guy wearing a white ribbed undershirt and carrying a shotgun came barreling out of the house.  This was not a good time for my horn to be honking.  I knew what to do but didn't want to stop at this spot to fix the problem.  Holding my breath, I turned the car around.  Don't look at him.  I hope he sees we are harmless.  I drove down the hill as fast as its curves would allow.  Finally back at the highway, I parked on the gravel shoulder, opened the hood, thanked my dad for his instruction, and pulled the plug on the horn.

What did your dad teach you?

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