Smith: Son, tell me you didn’t sell your mother a lemon

“I think my wife’s 2003 Ford Escape has a bad thermostat,” I said. “I’m afraid to drive it because it overheats within a mile. Pin-the-needle hot.”

“It’s probably not a thermostat,” my auto tech replied. “More likely a blown head gasket. But I can’t be sure until I see it.”

“What would a head gasket repair cost?”

“Ballpark, about $2250,” Mose said.

“Whoa,” I replied.

“I know,” he said.

“No. If the head gasket is blown, I have to tell my wife that her two-month-old new-to-her car needs major engine repair. And I have to tell our son that he sold his own mother a lemon.”

“Drive the car until it overheats again,” Mose said. “Then squeeze the top radiator hose. If it’s hard as a rock, you probably have a blown head gasket.”

“And a total loss,” I said.

“Probably.”

As I drove home, unsure of what to do, I asked the Lord to tell me. Then I remembered that I had not become angry at the possible bad news.

At home, it was 40 degrees outside, but the wind felt like an iceberg. I swapped my toboggan and light jacket for my artic cap and lined jean jacket, picked up the warm scarf I wear on morning walks, then put on my mud-proof rubber clogs, then stepped outside to open the ailing car’s hood and squeeze its upper heater hose until my fingers met.

As I drove, the engine temperature climbed above “hot” and hung there. Then I pulled into the yard of a little country church to let the engine idle, hoping the temperature would fall, but it did not. So I opened the hood, and touched the upper heater hose to see if was safe to squeeze. It was only warm, so I did so. It felt a little harder than when I first cranked up, but still soft enough to almost make the sides meet.

“That’s a pretty good sign,” I guessed.

Unsure of what to do next, I asked the Lord to tell me, then drove north out of the parking lot, still as calm as I had been after hearing the words “head gasket.”

“Must be the armor,” I said, “in Ephesians 6.”

But though I was not angry, I was uneasy, because I did not want my wife and son to have to get $2,250 worth of bad news.

I drove north for at least a mile, then turned left, not really aware of where I was until I reached a crossroads which, turning right would lead me back home or, turning left, back to Mose’s garage. I knew I might destroy the engine if I drove it far, so sitting at the crossroads I pondered the options, until I became convinced I should turn right and drive to Mose’s garage anyway.

Doing so, I kept my speed to 30 mph. But when I remembered the railroad track three miles down the road, I decided to shock the thermostat open by bumping the vehicle hard as I crossed the tracks. At the bump, the temperature gauge immediately dropped into the normal range.

“Hallelujah,” I said. “It’s not the head gasket; it’s the thermostat.”

It was about 3:15 when Mose asked me to pull the hood latch, then said, “Crank up.”

I set the brake, started the motor and came out to watch as he looked under the hood.

“I bumped it across the tracks — hard,” I said, “and the temperature dropped.”

“Probably still a blown head gasket,” Mose replied.

“Well there goes that hope,” I said to myself.

But then he squeezed the top radiator hose. “Turn the engine off,” he said.

After that, he removed the shroud from the top of the engine, then reached down low on one side and felt around.

“It’s the water pump,” he smiled.

“Not the head gasket?”

“No,” he said. “This water pump is so busted it couldn’t fill a teaspoon.”

I wanted to jubilate, but restrained myself.

“How much would that cost?” I asked.

“Around $250 to $300.”

Now I did jubilate, and silently thanked the One that helped me… the One who may not have done so had I thrown a fit at the bad news.

“Mose,” I smiled, “you just have changed a two thousand dollar problem to a two hundred dollar one.”

“I like doing that,” he said.

“Can I bring the car back on Monday?” I asked.

“You need to leave it here, today,” he said. “If you overheat that engine again, you could still blow its head gasket.”

“I get that,” I said.

“Do you have someone to come get you,” he asked.

“I need to make a call,” I said. “Could I use your phone?”

He nodded, so I got my scarf and water bottle out of the car, locked it and handed the key to Mose, who led me inside and handed me the office phone.

I could reach no one at home, and could not think of a single soul who could rescue me at 4 p.m. on a Friday afternoon.

“Got a problem?” Mose asked.

“A little one.”

“Where do you live?”

“Not far,” I said in what I hoped was a forgivable exaggeration.

“Mose, you’ve done enough for me for to last a month,” I smiled.

So I said goodbye and headed out.

God had been so good that I whistled as I walked. Property damage had been minimal, and hurt feelings for my wife and son almost nonexistent. I buttoned the strap on my bassett hound cap, and drew the scarf over my mouth, then cut my four-mile journey by 25 percent by walking through a cemetery. At its back, I saw that a valley separated the cemetery from the railroad tracks. As I started down grade, I was stopped short by a long greenbriar about the width of my little finger.

I calmly backed up enough to pull the briar from my jacket, then found an alternate route down the grade toward the tracks, to jump a little puddle, before heading up the ballast pile to the cross ties of the tracks.

Standing on the cross ties, I could see a field between me and some apartment buildings, but on my side of the field, a steep drop plunged from the tracks, ending in three foot wide ditch of brown water. I walked on, beside the tracks, hindered by the largest ballast rocks I have ever seen. Because none of the three-inch stones lay in the space between the rails, I stepped onto the bare cross ties until I came to the top of a hill. There, I stopped to assay a wall of thick, gray weeds blocking my way to the field, then continued walking to find an easier place to cross.

Finally I found a weed-free spot, and strode down the shallow grade onto the field.

“I walk three miles every day,” I reminded myself, as I tightened my scarf against the wind. “I wear better shoes than these clogs, but they’re OK. The air is cold, but my jacket holds it back.”

I looked at the clear sky.

“Still plenty of daylight left,” I said, “to make it home before dark. “

Just as I pulled my blue scarf back over my nose, I remembered a banjo picking buddy who lived not a quarter-mile from where I stood. If he was home, I knew he would give me a ride.

So I crossed the field and the main road, then took the sidewalk to Luke’s street. As his house came into view, I saw his pickup was not there.

“I guess it’s walking for me then,” I said, heading back toward the road which led home.

But just before I got there, I saw a white Dodge pickup coming down the road, then slowing down and turning in.

“It’s Luke,” I said.

He nodded to me as he passed, and pulled over onto the shoulder.

“What you doing?” he asked.

“Walking home,” I said. “Will you give me a ride?”

“You know I will,” he replied.

On the way to my house, we decided some coincidences aren’t coincidences at all, then when we got there, I thanked him for bringing me home.

“You don’t ever have to thank me,” he said.

“But I wanted to,” I said, “and to thank the Lord for a day of grace.”

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Leon Smith is a contributing columnist to The Anson Record. Write to him P.O. Box 124, Marshville, NC 28103.

Leon Smith is a contributing columnist to The Anson Record. Write to him P.O. Box 124, Marshville, NC 28103.