Grits and Purls

Spinning yarns about the grit of life

My Dad is 81 years old. He now lives in central Georgia off of a grass airstrip where he works on airplanes, tinkers with a yellow 1978 MG Midget that he named “Joy” in memory of my mom, and hosts an annual springtime airport bar-b-que. My one regret about living in Wisconsin is that I live so far away from my dad. I call him at least once a week, but that hardly seems enough. These phone calls though are precious to me, and often I learn something about my dad or my family or myself that I have never heard before.

This week he told me the story of Mr. Thurston.

My grandpa owned a bicycle shop in Tampa, Fl, and my dad worked there as a young boy. Every morning he would ride his bike to the shop, unlock the door and sweep it out. Dad said he would turn on the radio just as the theme music for the radio show, Uncle Bill’s Let’s Pretend, was beginning. As Dad talked, it was almost as if he could hear the theme music he described playing over the old radio speaker.

One of Grandpa’s regular customers was an elderly gentleman whom my dad knew as Mr. Thurston. Mr. Thurston worked for insurance companies, which sold policies by the week for nickels and dimes. He would ride his old Pierce bike around Tampa, collecting the nickel and dime premiums. Mr. Thurston was unique among Grandpa’s customers in that one of his legs had been replaced with a wooden orthotic. Dad didn’t know how Mr. Thurston lost his leg; he was old enough that he might have been a World World I vet, but that is only a guess. Dad said that Mr. Thurston rode his Pierce bike so slowly, it was really hard to imagine how it was possible for the bike to remain upright. But it did. And whenever there was a problem with the bike, he brought it to Grandpa for repair. Grandpa was the only bicycle mechanic Mr. Thurston trusted. Apparently, Mr. Thurston thought extremely well of Grandpa’s mechanical prowess, because Dad even recalled one day when Grandpa had cleaned off a workbench, covered it in fresh newspaper and helped Mr. Thurston sit on top while Grandpa removed, cleaned, greased and replaced the bearings in Mr. Thurston’s orthotic knee.

One day, when the bicycle shop was extremely busy, and Grandpa could not leave his work, Mr. Thurston brought his bike in for repair. Dad can’t remember what was wrong with the bike. All he remembers is the conversation he overheard between Mr. Thurston and my grandpa.

“I can’t fix it right now. Tony can do it for you,” my grandpa said.

“Can he do that?” Mr. Thurston asked.

“Oh yes. He’s a very fine mechanic.”

My dad stopped his story telling. “That meant so much to me. Hearing my dad tell someone I was a fine mechanic.”

“You know,” my dad continued, “I don’t know if I realized how important it made me feel at the time, to open that shop up in the mornings, but when I think back, it was a big deal. I think it’s important to give children some responsibility, to trust them to do things.”

Sometimes as parents I think we underestimate the effect we have on our children. My dad is 81 years old, and he still beams when he talks about the day his dad told somebody he was a “fine mechanic”.

An offhand remark in an overheard conversation can engender feelings of confidence and pride decades later. I wonder, when my daughter is 81, what snippet of conversation will she remember?

© 2012 Michele Arduengo. All rights reserved.

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