On Washing Cars

October 4, 2007 at 4:41 am Leave a comment

On Washing Cars

            Last Sunday I washed and waxed my car. I spent a full three hours on it, and as part of the event, I talk to my neighbors. Jack comes over a lot, tells me his guitar stories. He claimed that I wash my car every weekend, and I got into a bit of a willful battle about it, like that old married couple who fusses over remembering dates for a single dinner thirty years ago; and then I realized that whatever habit I have, it’s definitely a lot more than anyone else I live around, and that would be noticeable. So instead, I told Jack warmly about my dad, that not a single one of my car washing events goes by without thinking about my dad who really did wash the cars every weekend, and how I loved to trail around him polishing the chrome, and however good I am at keeping my car clean, it still doesn’t match with the perfection my dad had in buffing his out perfectly.

            I love chrome. Cars don’t have chrome any more. Chrome is jewelry for cars. It buffs out so purty you see your face in it stretched out like in the old “Fun House,” or you love seeing those ripples of blue sky streaked in that silver colored metal, or the big arcs of light bouncing off from the sun. Plastic black trim on cars these days just is no comparison at all. If you use the right compound, the metal once flecked with salt spray revives to something so clear you want to lay it on the table to eat off of.  It’s such a “guy thing” to love those cars, to love to work on them, to love to polish and fuss over them; I think it’s part of all our innate desire to have shiny things in our hands; as women, the excuse is small and dangles off of our ears; for men, it’s big and comes with a key and they can dangle their arms out the window. Either way, design and sparkle add to the delight.

            Dad used to get up early to wash the cars. He’d wash his, then my mom’s, and when I got a car, it got into the line-up, too. No matter how well I thought I cleaned it, he always found places I scrimped; wax lines left between the crevices of doors and windshield washer sprayers; streaks of Armor All across the dash, a little fuzz left on the hood, a neglect of attention to the tires. He was right. He always did do a better job, and every time I clean my car, I always think how much better Dad was at it. Like so many of the things he did, he did it with purpose and passion, even though the effort would seemingly disappear with the first rainstorm.

            He never played music as he worked; he simply got into his routine of chamois, sponges, toothbrushes and specialized goos and went about his work, and when all was done, he would come in the house, take a shower, then promptly take a nap followed by lunch. When I joined in with him, I was simply along as a kind of apprentice, and with his model, I now do what he does; I crawl all around the car, spraying water, getting dirty, rubbing, noticing details in a detached sort of way, because the bigger piece is the quiet time alone outdoors, smiling at my reflection in the paint and letting thoughts amble around, and having simple conversation with the neighbors.

            Dad doesn’t wash cars any more. He’s had to adjust and take it in to a car wash. He’s getting old. Like so many of these things that we do, the baton has been passed, with my personality added…I don’t wash the car every weekend (truly), there still are wax clumps in the crevices, but dad is with me every time; smiling, thoughtful, purposeful; just being him, daughter and dad washing the cars and loving those reflections in the paint.


Entry filed under: Stories.

Writing by the Hand Sugar and Cream

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