By Richard Mabey Jr.
What is it that haunts us in the unique, distinct, and amazingly individual way that tears into the deepest chambers of our heart, mind, and inner being? So much so, that it seems ingrained in the inner fiber and structure of our DNA. So much so that it seeps deep down into the stream and flow of our dreams and nightmares. And, it is something that seems so utterly important to us, yet is so very insignificant to most other people.
For my father, it was spark plugs. I remember when I turned 17, in September of 1970 and began my senior year at Boonton High School. There was a fellow who had a used car lot in Lincoln Park. I believe his name was Tom Barry. Today, a CVS Drug Store now stands, where his infamous used car lot was once located at the corner of Boonton Turnpike and Chapel Hill Road.
I had saved quite a bit of money from my enterprising little business of mowing lawns in the neighborhood in the Spring and Summer months, then raking leaves in the Autumn, and shoveling snow in the Winter. Dad told me that he’d meet me “buck for buck” as he put it, with money for me to buy a used car.
It was quite a big deal for a boy, coming of age, to buy his first car. For me, it was a white Ford Falcon. I fell in love with this nifty little car, the moment that I laid eyes on it, setting there in the corner of Tom Barry’s used car lot.
As the Autumn winds gently shook the twigs of the branches of the maples and oaks that surrounded the area of the used car lot, and rusty colored leaves gently glided to the earth’s surface, Dad and Tom talked about my perspective Ford Falcon.
“I’d like to take a look at the engine, Tom,” Dad said as I stood there beside my Dad and Tom.
“Sure Dick, no problem,” Tom said as he opened the hood of that chrome shining, white Ford Falcon.
“Spark plugs. I just want to see if there’s room to change the spark plugs,” Dad said to Tom.
“Oh, you can see, Dick, there’s plenty of room to get at the spark plugs,” Tom replied.
“During the war, I put in new spark plugs on those old P-51 Mustangs. They were knuckle busters! At the end of the day, my hands would be bleeding,” Dad told Tom.
“Well, Dick, you and the boy won’t have any problem changing the spark plugs on this gem,” Tom said to my dad.
“Most of the time, they didn’t even give us time to change but half of the spark plugs on those little fighter planes. They were so tight, the way they designed that plane engine,” Dad reminisced to Tom.
For me, it wasn’t the first time that I heard Dad talk about spark plugs. From family picnics, to scout campouts, to church fellowship dinners, and on and on. Dad loved talking about spark plugs.
“You know Lou, when you buy a car, make sure you can get to the spark plugs easy enough,” I would hear Dad say to one of his fellow scout leaders, as we all sat around the campfire at night time on a scout camp out.
In 1995, we visited Disney World. While in Orlando, we went to the M&M’s store. They had the famous 36 race car on display. I remember Dad driving the young man, who worked there, crazy talking about the importance of being able to get to spark plugs easily without “busting your knuckles.”
I now have a Ford Explorer. I open the hood and look at the engine. Dad would just shake his head. Sometimes, when I check the oil in my car, I can hear the echo of my father’s voice saying to me, “Richie, the spark plugs! Make sure you can get to the spark plugs easily when you buy a car.”
Sometimes when I’m talking to a neighbor, or a friend at church, or a fellow member of my writers’ club, we find ourselves talking about car engines. Inevitably I’ll mention how you can no longer get to the spark plugs easily any more. And, they’ll kind of look at me in a most funny and peculiar way. But, sometimes they’ll have a kind of sad and somber look in their eyes, and say something like, “yea, those were the days, when you could easily get to the spark plugs in a car engine.”
Truly, those were the days.
Richard Mabey Jr. is a freelance writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please put on the subject line: My Life Publications.