My old man was not much on plumbers, electricians, garages or repair shops of any kind. As long as it was even close to possible and for as long as he could, dad fixed things himself. He was pretty good with cars, but his expertise did not extend very far into the interior of our old house. Chez Weaver was often soggy with leaky elbow joints and electrical wiring that would scare a county code inspector to death. The rig he created to get extension phones into every room of our house looked like Medusa on a bad hair day.
Like I said, dad was good with cars, but he always had his own special way of getting a repair job done; never, ever the way you or I may have done it and God forbid he actually look into the owner’s manual. I am not sure the old man even knew that cars came with an owner's manual. I sure as hell never saw him look at one.
One of his greatest automotive moments came on Christmas I was 17 and we spent Christmas Eve putting a new transmission in my old car. The tranny in my ’68 Chevy station wagon had finally ground itself to death and I was in complete freak-out mode that I was going to be carless at Christmas. The equation was pretty simple;
Carless = Girlfriendless = No fun under the mistletoe.
I certainly didn’t have the money for a new automatic transmission, so my Christmas was looking pretty blue. Enter dad, the blue-collar Santa.
“I’ll drive you to the junkyard and get you a transmission and you can help me put it in on Saturday…we’ll call it your Christmas present.”
“But Saturday is Christmas Eve, Dad!”
“That’s the deal, take it or leave it.”
A junkyard transmission for Christmas - and I get to put it in on Christmas Eve.
I don’t believe Bing - or even Elvis - has a song about that one.
Saturday dawned very, very early and good, old-fashioned east coast, Chesapeake Bay, sleet-in-your-face-in December cold. We went to the junkyard and Dad haggled his best deal on my oily Christmas present and we hauled it to our backyard to put it in my Chevy.
Of course we didn't own the proper jacks or lifts. Oh, I’m sure we could have borrowed them somewhere, but dad was never one to stop in the middle of a job for a little thing like not having the right tools.
"Get me those old books from the shed, son," he said.
"That old set of A&P encyclopaedias we're gonna burn this winter."
Like I said, the old man never even looked at an owner’s manual. What was he going to do? Look up “T” for transmission?
"What do you need encyclopaedias for, Dad?"
“Ray, just do what I say and get me the damn books."
Now, you are going to have to try and picture this -
December on the Chesapeake. Colder than your wife's feet in the middle of your back. My mission, with no choice at all as to whether I accepted it or not, was to lay upon the frozen earth, underneath my Chevy station wagon, and wedge volumes of the A&P Supermarket Illustrated Encyclopaedia, one by one, under the transmission my father was lifting by throwing all of his weight on a 6 foot long two-by-four. We had already dropped the old transmission to the ground and were using it as a fulcrum. Enough leverage (and books) would "lift that sucker up to where we can just bolt her right on. Nothin’ to it, son.”
It worked like a charm.
No earth science class ever gave a better demonstration of the principals of leverage, and no set of crummy supermarket encyclopaedias were ever put to better use. They also got pretty soaked with transmission fluid, so they "burned real good" too. We used them as kindling all winter.
I do not, in these more enlightened times, recommend automatic transmission fluid as a fire starter. But it was a different world then, and my old man didn't waste anything.
My dad was still alive when I wrote 'Half the Man' and I’m glad he had the chance to hear it. I have tried over the years to rewrite it so it would be shorter and perhaps more commercial and maybe find a nice lucrative home with a Nashville artist. In the end, it always wanted to be just what it is; a somewhat corny but honest and heartfelt declaration of love from a son to his father.