A familiar pungent vapor suddenly burned my nostrils. I stopped and raised the hood to see gasoline spattering onto the motor of my riding lawnmower. I quickly shut off the engine and stepped a few feet away to fill my lungs with fresh air, thankful that there was no fire.
I stood motionless, staring at the hot gasoline-covered engine crackling in the sun, waiting for it to cool. When would I find the time to make two trips hauling that mower to and from the repair shop as my grass continued to grow?
Then, I thought about Saturdays from my childhood while watching my dad repair our old riding mower I’d nicknamed “Death-Trap” because of the way its single steel blade threw rocks and limbs from underneath the deck. It’s a wonder I still have all my toes.
Maybe I should at least make an attempt at repairing this much newer machine. I decided to remove the offending parts, one of which I couldn’t identify.
When I got to the mower shop, I presented the parts to Rick, the expert behind the counter. “I need a fuel filter and this other thing,” I said, thumping my finger against the black plastic casing. He raised his eyebrows at my little display. He was crisp and clean in his dark green company overalls, but it was early in the day.
“Oh, you need a fuel pump.”
“I thought a fuel pump would be bigger.”
Rick bent the connecting hoses to reveal small cracks and said, “I’ll throw in a piece of new hose, too.” He stepped quickly away to retrieve the parts and returned in less than a minute.
I moved to the cash register and said, “My dad could fix anything, but I didn’t get that trait. Do you charge double for repairs gone wrong?”
Rick laughed and said, “My whole family sings beautifully, but I can’t carry a tune. When I was 12 years old, our preacher said something about the joys of singing and my mother elbowed me and said, ‘Not you. You can’t sing.’ She wasn’t trying to be mean, but I got the message.”
I tilted my head, frowned, and said, “You should go ahead and sing anyway.” I didn’t mention to him that I was a musician.
He smiled and said, “Hope the mower repair works. If you get into a bind, just bring it in, and we’ll take care of it.”
While getting in my truck to leave, I felt a tinge of sadness at Rick’s comments about singing. I thought about how different my life might have been if my parents had pointed out things I couldn’t do. Daddy never said I couldn’t fix things or that everything I touched ended up broken even though I showed little evidence of being handy with tools and was sometimes accident prone.
When I got back home, the engine was cool to the touch. After installing the fuel filter and pump and making the hoses match the picture I took with my phone before removing them, I cranked up the mower. I watched the golden gasoline begin flowing through the clear fuel filter housing. Nothing was spewing from that little black fuel pump, and the motor was running normally. I smiled, thinking of how proud Daddy would be.
As I began cutting our tall grass, I thought about how I dreaded those childhood mowing days with my father. Back then, what should have been a two-hour job often took most of the day, because the mower I called “Death-Trap” often broke down. Now, I’m thankful for those Saturdays spent watching Daddy repair that riding mower. Both of us were unaware of the lessons being taught. I wonder if he knew how those lessons would be remembered years later at a lawn mower shop, by a much older son who is still in awe of the man whose example he still tries to follow.