Bless This Greasy Mess

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Bless This Greasy Mess

Rebecca Martin’s “Little Shop of Disorder” editorial (July/August 2019) inspired me to write about my dad’s workshop, a repurposed chicken house where chrome-plated Craftsman tools hung on the walls. Poultry netting covered the window, and clumped together nearby were a sea of pliers, hammers, screwdrivers, and clamps. The gigantic bench vise was used for bending metal and wire, and for holding a garden hoe, scythe, or sickle while we sharpened them with a flat file or whetstone; that was one of the many jobs I helped Dad accomplish.

I also helped keep the shop organized, which wasn’t one of Dad’s strengths. A disarmed World War II pineapple grenade hung alongside the tools in the window, and in the corner sat another World War II relic: an empty 88mm artillery shell that Dad had proudly promised to turn into a bank or lamp. But Mom refused to have the shell in the living room, so Dad left it in the shop until an antique collector snatched it up some 40 years later.

Dad often worked multiple jobs to make ends meet. One of his passions was fixing up old cars and selling them for profit. Dad loved Plymouths, Buicks, and Dodges. I distinctly remember a 1954 Plymouth Belvedere Coupe with whitewall tires, a baby-blue body with a white roof, and lots of chrome. She was beautiful, and Dad was tempted to keep her, but the bills had to be paid.                     

By age 5, I’d already begun to learn the standard sizes and names of tools. I got them out, slid under the cars with Dad on sheets of cardboard, and handed them to him. Oil dripped in my hair and grease coated my hands and bare legs, but I didn’t care. This was my time with Dad. I often “went to bed early” and pretended to sleep while Mom settled in for the night in front of the TV. Then, I’d slip out my window and race to the driveway where Dad was often still hard at work, even in the rain or snow. For some reason, he was never surprised to see me. Sometimes, I stayed out there with him until 10 p.m., and only headed back inside when he told me I needed to get some sleep for school the next day. Once we were finished for the night, we’d both quietly clean up the mess in the driveway, and creep silently into the house. If mom knew, she never said anything.

When I was older, we restored a Volkswagen Microbus. Once the van was painted and out in our field with a “for sale” sign in the window, she sold quickly. Dad kept that money and secretly put it aside to buy me a brand-new 1973 Dodge Dart when I turned 18. She had a yellow-gold body, green interior, and a dark-green vinyl roof. I was thrilled, but I also wanted Mom and Dad to have that car. I drove the Dart for a short time, then handed the keys over to my dad and thanked him. I wanted him to have a relatively maintenance-free car for once. That car remained a part of our family for nearly 15 years. She ran like a top! Through my teen and young adult years, Dad was always there to help me repair and replace every car I owned.

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