“Mr. Blankenship, I wonder if you could install a switch for the dome lights in the station wagon. I don’t like driving with my door open.” My dad and I were inside the ancient corrugated tin building where the old gentleman had his declining business. The outside of the huge metal door had the words “Blankenship’s Auto Service” painted on it, but the letters were barely legible. That was the way I remember the old fellow too…fading into retirement, one broken-down car at a time. He knew cars though, and his work was cheap enough. His establishment wasn’t a regular stop for us, but the way cars were built back then, it certainly paid to know a cheap mechanic.
As we awaited his answer, an image flashed into my mind of the recent trip we had taken through Kansas and Illinois from our home in the southern tip of Texas. There were quite a few hours of driving in the dark and, with five kids in the car, plenty of reasons to need light on some subject or another. As we drove down the road, Dad would pull up the handle on his door, easing the door open an inch or two until the dome light was illuminated. With light enough to see and the wind whistling in our ears, the crisis would be dealt with and he would push his door open a bit further and then pull it sharply closed. Later, when we got back home, he had another small mechanical problem and, like any thrifty person, he was going to be sure and take care of all the problems in one fell swoop. Thus the question to the mechanic about a switch for the dome light.
Mr. Blankenship looked at my father in surprise. “What’s wrong with the factory switch?” he queried. Now it was Dad’s turn to be surprised. “Factory switch? Where’s that?” The old mechanic reached a greasy hand through the open driver’s window and turned the headlight switch counterclockwise. Immediately, the dome lights were lit, with every door on the car still closed. Dad was shocked. “How long have cars had that feature?” he asked. I thought for a second or two and remembered the old 1957 Ford station wagon before this 1965 model, and the number of times it had been driven down the road in just the same manner as this one had on that recent trip. The old fellow looked into the air for a minute and thought, then replied, “Oh, I think since the mid-50’s. It probably tells you about it in your owner’s manual.”
All those years. There was never any need at all to do the contortions necessary to hold the door open at just the right position, and no reason to take the chance of being in an accident while speeding down the highway. All it took was the flick of a switch. Nothing more. On. Off. Light. Dark.
He hadn’t read the owner’s manual. You know what they say about the fruit not falling far from the tree. It kind of makes me wonder what I’ve missed.
As I write, I find myself seeking some way around the obvious application to us and our lives today. I’m pretty sure that it can’t be avoided. So, I think I’ll quit while I’m ahead and echo the words of the Teacher to his students when He said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
It does seem that it would be a shame for us to figure out, too late, that there were features of this life, about which we could only have learned if we had read the Owner’s Manual.
Ah! I see the light coming on now…
“Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path.”
“He couldn’t pour water out of a boot, if the instructions were written on the heel.”
(Anonymous Southern idiom)
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© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2012. All Rights Reserved.