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A Junkyard Christmas

My dad, William R. Weaver, Sr., was a regular guy. Like a lot of men of his generation, he had to quit school at 14 and go to work. He was, however, nobody’s fool. He had a shed load of common sense, and knew how to fix what was broken and keep stuff going long after it should have been hauled off to the nearest junkyard.

Perhaps his greatest “creative engineering” moment came the Christmas I was 17 and we spent Christmas Eve putting a new transmission in my old car. The automatic gearbox in my ’68 Chevy station wagon had finally ground itself to death, and I was in complete freak-out mode that I was going to be car- less at Christmas.

Car- less = girlfriendless = no fun under the mistletoe for Ray.

I certainly didn’t have the money for a new transmission, so my Christmas was looking pretty blue.

Enter my dad, the blue-collar Santa.

“I’ll take you to the junkyard and we can get a transmission and you can help me put it in on Saturday…we’ll call it your Christmas present.”

“But Saturday is Christmas Eve, Dad!”

“That’s the deal. Take it or leave it.” 

A junkyard transmission for Christmas … and I get to put it in on Christmas Eve. I don’t believe Bing has a song about that one.

Saturday dawned very bright, very, very early, and good old-fashioned Pasadena-Maryland-in December cold.

Dad haggled his best deal on my oily Christmas present and we hauled it to our backyard to put it in my wagon.

We didn’t own the proper jacks or lifts. Oh, I’m sure we could have borrowed them somewhere, but my dad was never one to stop in the middle of a job for a little thing like not having the right tools.

“Get me those old books from the shed, son,” he said.

I was confused.

“What books?” 

“That old set of A&P encyclopedias we’re gonna burn this winter.”

Now I was totally confused.

“What do you need encyclopedias for, Dad?”

“Just do what I ask and get me the books.” 

I got the books.

Now, you are going to have to try and picture this…

December in the ‘dena. Colder than your wife’s feet in the middle of your back.

My mission, with no choice as to whether I accepted it or not, was to lay upon the frozen earth, underneath my Chevy station wagon, and wedge volumes of the A&P Market Illustrated Encyclopedia, one by one, subject by subject, under the transmission my father was lifting by throwing all of his weight on a 6 foot long two-by-four. Enough leverage (and books) would “lift that sucker up to where we can just bolt her right on. Nothin’ to it, son.”

Fact is, it worked like a charm.

No earth science class ever gave a better demonstration of the principals of leverage, and no crummy set of supermarket encyclopedias were ever, to my mind, put to better use. They got pretty well soaked with Dextron transmission fluid, so they “burned real good” too.

We used them as kindling all winter.

My old man didn’t waste much.

(Note: The author does NOT recommend the aforementioned liquid as a fire starter. Those were different times.)

I could go on, but I think you get the picture.

Somewhere in all of these words, I said that folks called my dad a “regular guy”, and they meant it as a compliment. He wasn’t a regular guy to me, though. To me, he was anything but regular.

He was remarkable.

I hope I can someday give my son just one gift as wonderful as that greasy, cold transmission and the lessons that came with it.

Ray Weaver is a public information officer, professional musician and published songwriter. He lives in Pasadena with his wife and three children.

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