A daughter cherishes her time with her dad. Her time with her dad too, was in the garage. It was the scene of five of her most important life lessons.
My dad is a transportation guru. So much of his life has revolved around cars, ships, and airplanes that the mechanical workings of most anything comes second nature. He grew up in a family owned service station in rural Idaho. He joined the Navy at seventeen and saw the world on the U.S.S. Blue Ridge. When he rejoined civilian life he took jobs loading chemicals into crop-dusting planes, driving tow trucks, and building horse trailers. He tore around oval tracks in race cars he had built from scratch. And his motorcycle collection, well, let’s just say it’s extensive.
Needless to say, this kind of dedication to automobiles means he spends quite a bit of time in the garage. He tinkers, he chats with friends, he embarks on demanding builds, and sometimes, he just sits there, reading car magazines. The garage is his domain and all who enter are welcome – even children.
I spent a lot of time in the garage with dad as I was growing up and, although I was rarely much help, my little mind was always open to whatever knowledge he had to impart. There was a surprising amount of character development that happened in that two bay wonderland. Here are some of the lessons I learned:
A clean space is a safe space
I was a barefoot child – if I didn’t absolutely have to wear shoes, I didn’t. As far as I was concerned, our house, yard, and yes, the garage, were shoe free zones. It drove my dad insane, especially since he was the one that always ended up having to dig slivers out of my toes. I would run excitedly into the garage, and he’d immediately stop me with a shout, pointing to the metal shavings next to the power saw and my bare feet. No matter how much he admonished me to put shoes on, I rarely did. In the end, he was the one who caved, always making sure the garage floor was cleared of hazards so I was free to dirty my feet on the cool cement.
Another risk for my bare feet was the northern paper wasps that insisted on building their nests above the garage doors every year. Every time I spotted a new nest, dad would have me take the dogs inside while he “took care of it”. I would watch from the front window as he sprayed the nest with wasp killer, and then inevitably had to run from the few angry wasps he had missed. He always took the stings so I didn’t have to.
As I got older, cleaning the garage became a task we tackled together. We’d talk and laugh as we worked, and when our chore was complete, we’d sit together and enjoy a cold drink as I wiggled my toes against the clean floor. I still avoided dealing with the wasps, though.
Take joy in the quiet moments
Idaho is a place of weather extremes. It’s boiling in the summer and absolutely frigid in the winter. One of my favorite memories is of spending a particularly chilly winter afternoon in the garage with my dad when I was four. The doors were shut and sealed tight against the cold and the garage was actually quite cozy. I watched while my dad worked on his latest race car and listened to him talk himself through any problems he ran into.
At one point, he looked up and noticed I was almost catatonic in my boredom. He got up, left the garage, and came back a few moments later with milk, a can of Hershey’s chocolate syrup, a small pot, and two mugs. He then proceeded to pull the camp stove out from under the work bench and set it up. He poured milk into the pot and set it on the burner of the stove. While the milk warmed up, he opened the can of chocolate syrup with a church key and stirred it into the pot. I watched as the ribbons of syrup swirled with the milk and mixed into a rich, chocolatey brown. When steam started to rise off the surface of the milk, he took the pot off the burner and poured the contents into the two mugs.
We drank the hot chocolate in silence, watching as snow fell through the garage window. To this day, that quiet moment is one of the most treasured memories I have.
Just because something isn’t whole, it doesn’t mean it isn’t beautiful
Dad’s long standing project car is his ’67 Morris Minor – a British import he’s lovingly nicknamed Moe. The floor is rusting through in a few places, the wheel wells are all dinged up, the engine needs to be rebuilt, and it’s in desperate need of new upholstery. However, the car has a certain unique charm, and I can’t help but smile every time I glance its way. And dad, well, he gets absolutely starry eyed when he looks at Moe.
One afternoon, about six years ago, I came home to do my laundry and found dad standing in the driveway with Moe. He flashed me a giant grin and asked if I wanted to go for a drive around the neighborhood. I immediately accepted his invitation, hopped in the passenger side, and we rolled out of the driveway in a stuttering cloud of smoke. I couldn’t help but laugh like a maniac as we screeched around corners, holding onto the windshield supports to keep from being thrown around the interior of the car.
At one point, I looked down and noticed my dad kept pulling on a slightly rusty lever on the floor.
“What’s that?” I asked.
“It’s the emergency brake,” he replied. I was a bit confused.
“Why are you using the emergency brake when you’re moving?”
“No brakes!” he responded with a toothy grin as we flew around another corner.
“YOU TOOK ME FOR A DRIVE IN A CAR WITH NO BRAKES?!?”
He continued to laugh for the rest of my now white knuckled drive. When we got home, I helped him push Moe back into the garage. I shot him a dirty look and he threw his arm around me.
“I’d never let anything bad happen to you, kid.”
“I know, dad.” I answered with a sigh. “Just…next time, give me a little warning.”
Be proud of what you accomplish, no matter how small
I was eight years old and absolutely beside myself with excitement, waiting for my dad to wake up and come out to the garage. I had risen early that morning and wandered into garage, hoping to find something to quell my boredom. What I found, was my dad’s box of drive sockets.
I spent two hours, gently arranging the sockets by size on an old TV tray. When dad finally stumbled upon my work, he gushed about how helpful it would be and how he wouldn’t have to search so hard for what he needed. He gave me a big hug and a kiss, and cooed some more. When his friend came over later in the day, he pointed out the sockets and exclaimed how much time my organization had saved him. I had never felt so proud of an accomplishment in my short life.
Now that I’m older, I realize that my two hours of hard work could have been easily handled by a few socket rails, but I still smile when I think of the memory. It wasn’t what I did that impressed my dad, it was that I had cared to do it at all. That small task meant more to him than I could ever have imagined.
Enjoy the journey, not the destination
In the course of my 30 years, I’ve seen my dad undertake and insane amount of projects. I can count the ones he’s finished on two hands. It’s not that he isn’t dedicated, it’s just that life always seems to get in the way.
If those unfinished projects haunt him, he doesn’t let it show. Instead, I hear stories about the conversations he’s had, the things he learned, the MacGuyver-esque workarounds he achieved while working on different cars and motorcycles throughout the years. There’s no moaning about what could have been, only joy and laughter about what was.
That kind of wisdom is something that’s taken me years to understand, but now that I’m an adult, I finally get it. Sometimes, our journeys are long and arduous, and we never actually reach our intended destinations. However, if the destination is our only focus, we forget to enjoy the journey itself. My dad has taught me so much, but this life lesson is the one I’ll carry with me always.
Photos courtesy of author. Used with permission.
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