Bless This Greasy Mess
By Grit Readers
Letters to the editor about nostalgic repair shops, hunting wild pronghorn and feeding birds with overcooked jam.
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.
In 2013, my parents died one week apart from one another, both at the age of 89. After their funerals, I needed some quiet space to think, so I drifted out to the shop Dad had built just a few years prior. I unlocked the door to a time capsule filled with miniature planes, bins of bolts, the fragrance of oily rags and sawdust, and a wooden barrel filled with masonry trowels that he used to build my first house.
Some people might’ve thought Dad’s shop was just a jumbled-up mess with no purpose, but that mess put food on the table and kept the lights on in our house. If it hadn’t been for Dad’s shop and all of his projects, our lives would’ve been totally different.
“Little Shop of Disorder” by Rebecca Martin (July/August 2019) brought back wonderful memories of my son when he was small. I used to work on cars at home when we lived in California. It was something I enjoyed doing, and it helped make ends meet. My son and I would scour the neighborhood and the remote areas of our desert town, looking for old, neglected cars. If we could strike a deal with the owner, we’d drag the vehicle home, in any manner available, and start working in my single-car garage to bring it back to life. It was a father-son bonding moment each and every time, with a new adventure and a learning experience for us both.
At a very early age, my son, Ryan, showed an interest in anything with wheels and an engine. He was eager to help me by “helping” to fix the old beaters, and handing me tools. Once, while working on an old car we’d parked across the street, I realized I hadn’t grabbed all the right tools for a job, and started to ask Ryan to get me a flathead screwdriver. But, before I’d finished asking the question, he was off running toward the garage to grab the next tool.
I chuckled as I watched him search through the scattered pile of tools on the workbench. He eventually realized he had no clue what he was looking for, and in typical 5-year-old fashion, ran back to where we were working, and asked me, “What am I looking for again, Dad?” It was a classic moment, and we still chuckle about it.
By the time Ryan was 14, he’d already bought five cars to fix and sell, using the money he made from his lawn-mowing jobs.
The photo is of our cluttered old garage (see below). If you look closely, you can see Ryan in a greasy T-shirt, hunched over a parts bin looking for a nut or bolt. I’m thankful for the memories that editorial conjured up.
Hunting the Wild Pronghorn
In his book, Commerce of the Prairies, Josiah Gregg describes the difficulty he found in hunting the wild and fleet-footed pronghorn on the Santa Fe Trail in 1831. While difficult, you could still have success hunting them, according to Gregg because they were “entrapped by their curiosity.” To get close enough to have a shot, Gregg wrote, hunters would distract the flighty animals by tying a red bandana to a ramrod and waving it around.
Antelope haven’t changed much since the 1800s, although their habitat has. Today, the shortgrass prairie is a smooth, emerald green when irrigated by center-pivot sprinklers. Hunters, especially those using modern muzzleloaders, need cover to get close enough for a shot.
Cardboard cows, even unpainted, provide adequate cover, especially when a herd of 30 or more young cows follow the cardboard across the level landscape. On our hunt, the antelope actually closed the distance between us to 40 yards, as the cattle and our fake bovine marched toward them. With one shot, we had steaks and stew meat for our freezer.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
For the Birds
Thank you for the helpful hints in Renee Pottle’s article “Overcooked and Underloved Jam” (July/August 2019). I, too, have often had similar issues with various unintended consistencies in my jams and jellies. This is due to some of the factors mentioned in the article, but it’s also because I use my own maple syrup in lieu of white sugar, which really makes jam set differently.
I’d like to add one more use for overcooked jam, especially for the overcooked jars of quince I made last year. It makes great food for birds! I drilled a drainage hole along the edge of a peanut butter lid, screwed it to a dead limb on one of my pear trees near my bird feeding station, and spooned the sticky, coagulated jam on the lid. The Baltimore orioles loved it!
You could also scoop your overcooked jam into a traditional bird feeder, and let it seep out, or suspend a small dish of jam with twine from a tree or overhang.
East Meredith, New York
I’m looking for recipes that include Kahlua in them for this holiday season. I had a wonderful recipe years ago, but it was destroyed in a fire.
Donna Lee Park
1810 W. Cervantes St., Apt. 134
Pensacola, FL 32501-2777
Barbie Patterns & Old Lace
I’m looking for old Barbie clothes patterns, as well as old lace.
248 E. Monastery St., Apt. 130
Springfield, MO 65810-3618
Salt & Pepper
I’m looking for someone who wants to add to their collection of salt and pepper shakers. I have a set of lovely little lambs I’d be happy to gift someone.
2330 Freedom Way, Apt. 201
York, PA 17402-8264
I’m looking for pen pals who share some of my interests: homesteading, livestock, organic gardening, orchards, viticulture, opera, literature, and historical buildings. I’m hoping to make friends across the country!
P.O. Box 54
Woodburn, KY 42170-0054
Salad Dressing Recipe
I’m searching for a salad dressing recipe that was published in a mid-1980s issue of Better Homes and Gardens. The photograph that accompanied the recipe showed a creamy dressing poured over folded slices of turkey and honey-glazed ham, and drizzled over slices of cantaloupe, honeydew melon, black grapes, and strawberries on a bed of curly lettuce.
4467 W. 90th St. N.
Porter, OK 74454-2645
Mail Call: Homemade Wheat Bread
We love the letters from our Grit readers. This month: firewood cutting tips, a wonderful whole wheat bread recipe, more switchel recipes, and photos of toad houses.
Reader Letters, July/August 2021
Letters from our readers this month include musings on saffron, homemade noodles, uses of blood meal, and cherishing family time.
Timeless Chicken Advice
Check out these letters from Grit readers on timeless chicken advice, ventilation, building transformations, classrooms, pickled okra, and Polish Top Hats.