Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Hanging Around With My Parents.

Sometimes, it becomes very clear to me why I have turned out the way I am.

Last week was our March Break, and I chose to spend all of it out at the farm. Now in case you're new here, it's not a working farm anymore. Two horses and a barn cat do not make a farm. I call it "the farm" because it's faster than saying "My mom and dad's place" and more truthful than saying "The weekend country house."

We get there, and my old man tells my kids that he'll need some help with an engine swap this week. ENGINE SWAP: pretty self explanatory. Unhook the one that's in there and drop in a new one, it's just That Simple. All you need is a pit, a chain fall, a few tools and a trouble light.

It took me a few years to figure out that not everybody's dad does an engine swap every couple of years. Only about ten years ago I realized that most people will never ever be involved in such an operation. I've been in on at many of these. I think the last one was my first truck, in 1992. I don't really do shop stuff anymore. I went and grew up and got all girly about it. But my son...he's willing to sit there and wait until Papa needs a new tool handed over. He's the official Tool Hander. That used to be my job, and I'm pleased to be passing on the torch. I was The Boy in our family. My sister didn't really get into cars and junk but I loved it all.

I especially loved having a garage in my back yard when I was a teenager. We went through a phase where there were a lot of teenage boys hanging around the shop. A lot of them, often working on their cars shirtless, where I could stare out my bedroom window at them. Lord have mercy on this innocent farm girl. Oh those were good years. Last summer I asked my dad how come there aren't hordes of teenagers lurking there anymore. He looked at me like I was stupid and said with a totally straight face, "You moved away fifteen years ago."

So Dad's got this engine swap thing down to a science. Anybody else would take about a month to get it done, which is a generous estimate. Kids, do not try this at home: Come home from work on Friday night, pull everything off the motor, lift it on Saturday before noon, set it in Saturday night, and spend all day Sunday hooking it up. He's done it. He had to skip church to do it, but damn if that thing wasn't fired up Sunday night and ready to go back to work on Monday morning. And that was in his '77 Chevy truck, so it was a tricky job because of those pesky fenders and grille.

He doesn't have that problem in his F-100. It all comes apart, real conveniently, for times like this. He likes everything to be easy. About three engines ago, he chopped out the frame rails from the firewall forward in order to weld in the subframe from a Chevelle, freeing him from the tyranny of Ford steering and giving him power steering and brakes. While he had it all apart, he replaced the fenders with fibreglas ones, bolted the whole mess together, made a few strategic cuts, welded up a couple of hinges, and there you go: TILT FRONT END. It's just That Simple. So really, with this set up, he has absolutely no excuse for an engine swap to take longer than three days.

Which is good, because he doesn't work for the man anymore; he is the man, and the man does landscaping, and he had to pull his work truck off the road permanently last year, so the Ford is on duty again this year, and soon it's lawn rolling time...and there's the Ford, in the shop, with nothing but a frame and wheels from the cab forward. The hood and fenders are in the corner of the paint booth, lovingly covered with a blanket.

Meanwhile, my mother is in the house, silently going CRAZY. My mom would never, ever, attempt this kind of stunt.

She is punctual, with a natural gift for planning. He has no concept of time. She leaves herself enough time for a task, or else doesn't take it on at all. He has six project going at all times. She goes to work at the same nursing home where she has worked for 25 years. She's reliable. He has never been good at working for the man. He can't do repetitive jobs. He can't follow orders or instructions. He hates having someone breathing down his neck, watching every move, telling him what to do.

sigh. Just like me.

But I've had some long talks with my mom over the last year and a half. She is the one who sat me down in the kitchen on Christmas Eve '04 and told me that it is not normal or healthy to have chest pains and that I need to see the doctor. When she was in her early 30's, she had kids about the same age as mine are now, a barn full of pigs who weren't worth the feed that was going into them, a part time job, a huge debt to the bank, and a husband who was either in the barn or in the garage, painting cars. It was all work, all worry, all stress. He'd gotten increasingly withdrawn. Many farmers at that time were either hanging themselves off the barn rafters or drinking themselves to death. Things were not good. Her doctor told her that if she wanted to get rid of her chest pains she should get counselling for herself as well as marriage counselling.

Wow. History can repeat itself.

I must make note here of how incredible my mom is. Most girls start off with the bad ass boyfriend who has a hot car and it's all fun. That is, until she wants something that only money can buy, and pretty soon that useless car of his has got to go. I hate that. I think that's mean. My dad bought his F-100 when I was an infant. It was already an old truck, but it was okay because all of our stuff was old. It was our farm truck, and when times were tough, it was our only transportation. Slowly it morphed into a hot rod, just out of Dad's version of necessity. When the original motor cacked, he rigged up new motor mounts and we're powered by Chev. Never once did she bitch at him to get a new truck. For Christmas this year she gave him a framed photo of his truck. She has driven it a grand total of once.

I had a week to take a good long look at the two of them. Lucky me. I got my scatterbrained, creative, stubborn, depressive, rebelliousness from him. I got the gift of the gab, the anxiety, the outrageous laugh, and the big eyes and quick tears from her. I hope I age as beautifully as they are. That truck sure is aging nicely.


Notsocranky Yankee said...

My father taught me how to work on cars. I'm the youngest of 4 girls, and the only one who was interested. He had (seemingly)unlimited patience. My mother tolerated all the cars, although when we moved from Connecticut to New Hampshire when I was 6, an old truck (or maybe he only had the cab, I'm not sure) didn't make the move. I remember sitting in it (it was in our garage) and pretending to drive. We had an engine on an engine stand in the garage for several years also.

My dad died 15 years ago and my mother sold me his '64 Corvette. It sits in our garage, waiting for me to have time to fix it up right. (I used to drive it but it needs a couple things now that it has been sitting for so long.)

Askinstoo said...
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Heidi the Hick said...

You are a girl after my own heart! Hang onto that Corvette, and fix it up a little at a time. Don't put it off. Just a little at a time. And get the kids in on it. I say this despite my 57 Pontiac sitting for half my life. An old car can really be a good familly project!