“Dad, people are looking at us,” my daughter says.”Let them look, baby,” I tell her. “Hold the light a little bit closer. There ya go, just like that.”
The nut on the battery cable is rusted, and it’s smaller than other car batteries that I have changed out. Normally, they are easy to get a wrench around. But that may be because when I’ve changed car batteries in the past, it wasn’t dark out. The wrench slips over the nut and I give it a turn. The wrench slips off the nut, clanging as I drop it.
“Hand me the pliers, honey,” I tell my daughter. She doesn’t ask what pliers are, she just reaches into my grandfather’s toolbox and grabs the right one. The pliers that she hands me are older than she is. Hell, they are older than I am. They came from my grandpa and have that patina on them that I never want to wash off. I remember handing my grandfather the exact same set of pliers when I was Little Hoss’s age, twelve. As I try to get the tool around the rusted nut, it strikes me that thirty years moves way faster when you are on the other side of it.
“That lady over there thinks we are trying to steal mom’s car,” my daughter says.”No, she doesn’t, honey. She is admiring our handy work. It’s a rite of passage to work on a car in the middle of the night in a grocery store parking lot,” I tell her. My daughter rolls her eyes, thinking that I am joking. But I’m not. It’s true. Eventually, everyone has to have the hood popped on a car at night in a public place at least once. My grandfather once changed spark plugs in front of a store. I was there. With these same tools.
My daughter volunteered to come with me to fix my wife’s car. It wouldn’t start after she went to the grocery store. I was pretty sure it was the battery. I tried to jump it, but it wouldn’t take a charge. It acted like it wanted to but just couldn’t get to the threshold. I took my wife home, and now I’m going to change out the battery right here, maybe I’ll let my twelve-year-old drive it home.
“Vice grips, honey,” I tell her. I don’t need to look at what she is doing. I hold my hand out, and I get the right tool. My daughter is a fantastic helper, and I find that I prefer her with me when I have to do stuff like this. Not that I do this often, but when I do there is no one else I would want with me. My wife tries to give too much advice–“You should undo that thing and then connect that other thing.” I love my wife, but she tends to make repairs take longer. Not my daughter, though. The right tool for the right job.
“What’s a battery do?” She asks me.
“Gives power to the starter. The starter kicks on the motor and boom, you are ready to go.”
“Where’s the starter?”
“Over there,” I say and then point randomly at the engine. I wonder if my own grandfather did this, give generic bullshit answers so I wouldn’t lose faith in him. He was Mr. Fixit, there was nothing that he couldn’t tinker with and eventually get back up to snuff. I’m a poor impression, but my daughter doesn’t know that. She looks at the engine and says “Oh, I see.” She bullshits as good as her great-grandpa did.
The nut finally comes loose and I’m able to get the negative cable off the battery. One more to go. It’s not as rusted but looks a bit stripped. My vice grips slip off the nut, and my knuckles bang against the engine. I know I”m bleeding, repairs require a certain amount of blood sacrifice. You give it without complaint. Another thing that I learned from my grandfather. As well as a few choice curse words to say when it happens. It’s important to pass on that knowledge.
“Shit,” I say. My daughter doesn’t respond. She has been doing stuff like this with me since she was two. She knows how this goes.
Another try and the nut loosens enough that I can disconnect the cable from the dead battery. I move both cables to the side and attempt to lift it up. It doesn’t budge. I’m forgetting something, which isn’t surprising. This is the extent of my car knowledge. They have batteries. You can change them pretty easily. I also know that they have alternators, spark plugs, and pistons. I don’t know where any of those are located, but I’ve seen my grandfather do it. There’s also a leprechaun in there somewhere. It’s true. I read it in a book to my daughter when she was four. Sounds plausible.
“Point the light down here,” I tell her, indicating a seam between the battery and some mystery cables. When the light gets just right, I see the problem. There is a wedge bolted to the base of the battery plate that holds everything down when the car is running. Smart.
“Socket wrench, honey. 3/8ths. And put the extender on it. I can’t get my whole hand down there,” I say. I have gorilla hands, and they aren’t made for tight spaces. But I can hold a pretty good amount of chips in them, so basically I walk around with bowls at the end of my arms.
The light disappears with my daughter as she grabs the right tools. She checks the sides of the sockets until she gets to the right one. She studied fractions last year in school, and now demands that this is her job. I’ve got no problem with it. Grandpa used to let me do it, with the very same toolbox. He was patient with me, and I appreciate that more as a father myself now.
Little clicks start happening behind me as I hold back the cables. She is working the extension on along with the actual socket. I hear a slip and my daughter mutters underneath her breath. I smile because I think I may know the word she used. I’m going to let it slide. It’s all part of the lesson. She taps me on the shoulder and the socket wrench is in my hand, fully assembled with the right socket and the extension. Two minutes of turning, and the battery easily comes out. I let Little Hoss lift it.
“That is heavy!” she says. My daughter isn’t worried about anyone watching us anymore as she struggles to get the battery over the lid of the hood. I smile, I’m having a wonderful time. She puts it down and grabs the new battery we put by the toolbox. I stand aside and let her put it in.
“Ok, what you need?” I ask her.
“Um,” she says, reverse thinking the process.”Socket wrench,” she says and holds out her hand. I give it to her and she begins working the wedge back into place. When she finishes, I explain how to put the new cables on.
“Vice grips,” she says. I give them to her and sit back and watch.
She’s got this as I stand off to the side, the place where I spent so many years with Grandpa. I was anxious then, wanting to be given something important to do. But now, I’m content to sit back in my spot and watch.
“What happens if we put the cables on the wrong sides?” she asks me.
“Car blows-up,” I say. Actually, I have no idea. Maybe the leprechaun gets mad. But my daughter takes it in stride. She takes a deep breath and checks the positive and the negative terminals again to make sure they are on the right ones.
I’m doing’ ok Grandpa. And so are your tools.
Photo credit: Pixabay