It was very appropriate that Joni and I spent a recent Saturday washing our two cars. First, they were dirty and needed a thorough cleaning.
But, much more importantly, Saturday, June 10 was my Dad’s birthday … and growing up, I spent a significant amount of time with him on the golf course carrying his clubs (I was not a good golfer), in the backyard doing Saturday chores and puttering around in the garage. He certainly seemed to have plenty of chores for my two brothers and me, whether it was mowing the lawn in the summer or shoveling snow from sidewalks and driveways in the winter.
Another favorite winter chore was splitting wood. Dad was one of the world’s greatest firemakers and to have a roaring fire in the fireplace meant you had to go cut dead trees into rounds and split them into smaller pieces of wood. He used a chain saw, because that was dangerous, and as we grew big enough, we would use a maul and wedges to split the wood. I still enjoy splitting wood by hand, instead of using a hydraulic-powered splitter, but it’s not the same, because in Illinois, the oak rounds would freeze in the winter and split easily.
Last week, I tried to split a green round of sycamore (we finally had our 30-year-old diseased tree taken down and cut into rounds) and it was tough work and full of fibers. How I wished it was frozen!
This year, Dad would have celebrated his 93rd birthday. He passed away almost three years ago, in December 2014, and my brothers and I still miss him terribly.
In Illinois, cutting the lawn was an art. Our across-the-street neighbor used to cut his lawn twice each Saturday – once back and forth and then again diagonally. It looked beautiful, but as a kid, I thought cutting the grass once was plenty. I still think so, even though I cut our vacant lot that is full of weeds, not grass.
After my brothers and I had moved out of the house and headed to college, Mom and Dad moved to a new house – they moved every seven years while I was growing up, mostly within Naperville, although once we moved to Bloomington for one of Dad’s advertising jobs. I remember Dad bought a John Deere tractor – he called it his “weekend freedom machine” and he was right, because that house had a big front, back and side lawn. And, he had no one at home to cut it on a weekly basis.
Dad may not have known much about the mechanics of a car, and he admitted it, he’d much rather be on the golf course than under the hood of a car, but he knew how they should be cleaned. When he was a teenager, he got his driver’s license and before he could borrow his father’s car, he had to wash it. That held true for the next generation as well.
Dad taught each of us to drive – I remember thinking I couldn’t imagine how the hood of this huge car could go through something as narrow as a two-lane bridge that spanned the DuPage River.
Dad loved to drive, whether it was on vacation to Palisades Park in Michigan, or to work each day … 28 miles from Naperville to downtown Chicago or taking us boys to college, in the middle of Wisconsin, a four-hour trip or to Boulder, Colorado, which was about 20 hours one way. He and Mom took the same 1,000-mile trip many times, when they spent the winters in Florida and summers in Wisconsin.
According to Dad, it took a long time for a car to be thoroughly cleaned. The interior rugs needed to be vacuumed, the dashboard cleaned and the interior windows washed. To wash the outside, you first wet the car, then washed it with good, soapy water and then rinsed it with clean water from a hose. After the car was rinsed, you used a chamois to dry it, so there were no water spots.
Gasoline or kerosene was used to remove the bugs and road tar. The wheels and hubcaps needed special attention to get clean and after the car was clean, it needed a good wax job, with special attention paid to the chrome. (There was a different polish for the chrome than there was for the rest of the car.)
The wax had to be applied with a clean, damp rag by hand and after the wax dried, you used another clean terrycloth rag to buff out the car.
It was a huge job, in part, because Dad always bought big cars, nine-passenger Pontiac station wagons, for example. And, after the station wagons, two-door Pontiac sedans. Boy, were we surprised when our red-and-black 1972 Catalina lasted more than 100,000 miles! So different from the cars of today … and yet, it still takes an amazing amount of time to wash, clean and polish one car, much less two.
And that’s how Joni and I spent Saturday, June 10, thinking about Dad, listening to a baseball game on the radio and cleaning our cars. A good day, well spent.