This September will mark 10 years since my Dad passed away. I was so lucky to have him in my life for 53 years and have many great memories. One I’d like to share is a memory of his mental resilience and cleverness.
This occurred one summer during my college years back in 1974. I had a part time job working evenings in a local store. My Dad was commuting to work at Kennedy Airport in a 1969 Plymouth Fury. On the way into work one Monday morning, the New York City streets had managed to punch small hole into the base of the Plymouth’s radiator. When he got out of work he found a puddle of coolant under the car, making it unusable. He got a lift home from one of his co-workers who lived nearby. So, he was home, but his car was at the airport. He had the next two days off from work and he had the tools and skill to repair the hole if the car was home. Dad had a wonderful ability to get a good night sleep when he dealt with problems like this (something I wished I’d inherited but didn’t).
He was an aircraft mechanic who worked an early shift, getting home about the same time my siblings and I got home from school each day. This meant we saw a lot of him even though he usually worked weekends when we were off. It also meant he was in the habit of getting up early, so that Tuesday morning he was up and already busy when I got up for breakfast. I looked out and saw him rummaging around in our garage. Just then my Mom came down the stairs and asked if I’d seen him. I motioned toward the garage, she looked and commented “what is he doing fooling around with a fish tank when he needs to do something about the Plymouth?”. I looked to the garage, saw the things he had already gathered and replied smiling “I think he is.” I’d just started to comprehend what he was thinking.
It was no surprise when he came in a few minutes later and said “Bob, lets take a ride to the airport.” Dad and I loaded a 20-gallon fish tank, the bilge pump from the boat wired to cigarette lighter plug, a garden hose and several large containers of water into my car and left for the airport. When we got there, we seat belted the fish tank into the Plymouth’s passenger seat, put the bilge pump into the tank, popped the plug into the cigarette lighter, ran the hose from the pump to coolant flush connector (popular back then) on the top engine coolant hose and filled the fish tank with water. Once everything was in place, he started off in the Plymouth and I followed him home in my car. The radiator was leaking a small stream of water but as fast as the water was leaking out the engine, fresh water was being pump in from the fish tank. Once the Plymouth was home, fixing the leak was not a problem.
Putting together all these items into a solution to the car problem was one of most clever solutions I have ever seen. He was a great role model in so many ways and this is one example. In my worked as engineer, I’ve come up with many clever solutions to problems. But I don’t think I’ll ever come up a clever solution that matches what my Dad came up with that day. It was something I’ll always remember.