Time was, many car owners had a ridiculous habit of literally tucking in their vehicles on a cold winter’s night, with as much care and dedication as wrapping a babe in swaddling clothes.
It never made sense to me when Dad used to go out around 10 p.m. and start the car and the delivery van for Tighe’s Arrow Cleaners until the engines were blowing as much hot air as my sister, Peggy, still does year-round.
Unconventional wisdom of the time, before Dad had oil heat plugs installed, was that blanketing an engine would retain the heat no matter how cold it got overnight.
“But Dad, what about the cold from underneath?” I would argue.
He’d just pooh-pooh me, bundle up and take that threadworn blanket out to cover the motor in “The Jewel,” as he and his wife called the old Chevy — I think it was a 1949 model.
I had forgotten about the practice until a couple of weeks back, when a young executive in town was lamenting that the company’s truck refused to start in subzero temperatures.
Nire — I’ll just use her first name because I don’t want to give her company a free plug, oil or otherwise — once told me that she’s an independent woman, largely because her dad taught her how to fix stuff.
She credited him with being a hands-off mentor, a fact that solidified a father-daughter bond she speaks of in admiring tones.
In response to my query to find a cold-weather story angle on her balky truck, she observed in an email, “My dad was telling someone the other day that I am ‘special.’”
“He said that anytime I have something that needs to be fixed at my house, I don’t call my dad to DO it, I call him to help me through it. There have been times where we just talk about it over the phone and, if I have problems, I send him a picture. He has only once told me no — that was to replacing the brakes on my car.
“I so very much appreciate this part of our relationship. He has had an instrumental and impactful role in making me the strong, determined, independent woman I am at home and at work,” she wrote.
“I have installed ceiling fans/light fixtures, took apart and repaired our dishwasher (three times before it finally died), replaced faucets, installed new spark plugs, cleaned my battery posts …,” yada, yada, yada, she wrote.
Now, to expand upon the church lady’s slogan during “Church Chat” on “Saturday Night Live:” Isn’t that special that she’s special?
I don’t mean to be sarcastic — it’s just what I do. However, I’ll attribute that snarky comment to jealousy of her dad, because I did a lousy job teaching my own kids how to fix things. Truth be told, I don’t know much about cars, I haven’t even changed oil in one, and I wouldn’t even consider trying to do a brake job.
I’m also embarrassed to confess how loudly I roared at the blond joke about the blonde who wondered how to get oil into her car’s little dipstick tube. What a stupid question, eh?
I swear it couldn’t have been much more than a week after I heard the joke when one of my kids called and said, “Dad, my oil is low. How do I get it in that little dipstick hole?”
Dad fail: I hadn’t even showed him how to do that. Dad fail II: My younger daughter called with the same question a few years later.
But it appears that even the best dad-daughter chains have broken chains.
Still struggling with the balky engine, Nire called Daddy — not to have him DO something, because she’s an independent woman, of course. She just wanted to pick his brain.
She reported: “My dad recommended putting a treble (??) light in next to the engine and covering it with rugs.”
Well, maybe folks around his parts used rugs instead of blankets, but I was as confused as she was about what a treble light is.
Then, the light dawned: He was using the old tuck-in-the-car technique, with an electrical twist. He obviously said “trouble light,” which would provide warmth under the hood, but she misheard.
The fact that Nire didn’t know what a trouble light is casts a long shadow over her mechanical prowess. That’s no surprise, considering that she can’t explain what her name even means, and a Google search for the meaning draws blanks, instead suggesting moniker mutations, such as Neriah, Nariah, Nora, Norah, Noor and yada, yada yada.
If she doesn’t know what her name means, how is she supposed to tell the the difference between a trouble light and a treble hook?
Most folks know that a treble hook is for fishing. Yet, she claims to be such a talented angler that she caught an enormous muskie while fishing with her dad and her kids several years back. Well, “caught” is the wrong term, as it is so often among anglers.
She insists that she hooked one — while using a bobber — but it got away. Her dad must have taught her how to talk about the one that got away.
Speaking of trouble lights, the recent cold spell in Florida, which famously chilled iguanas so much that they literally fell from trees, reminded me of the time Kate and I used a trouble light to help one of the cold-blooded critters when we lived in the Sunshine State.
One evening, we noticed an iguana outside the screen on the deck. Iguanas normally scurry away when you approach — or attack, if they are in a foul mood — but this one didn’t budge when I tapped on the screen.
It appeared as if its animation were suspended, mid-step.
Kate and I propped a trouble light next to the screen and, a couple of hours later, the critter was gone, apparently thawed enough to consider his journey on that night of the iguana — no relation to the Tennessee Williams play/movie.
All thanks to the old-time remedy for warming up cars.