My late father-in-law, Jerry, opened a general automotive repair shop in the early 1950’s in his family’s new hometown of Safford, Ariz. In the years that followed, the business grew as his skill and willingness to extend himself in solving clients’ problems became well-known.
He also added new services by installing air conditioners (this was soon after Detroit added them to their new cars and people in Safford wanted them without having to buy the rest of a car, too) replacing broken auto glass, and opening an International Harvester franchise. Do you remember the old International Scout?
Not all of these things passed the test of time. He closed the IH franchise, for example, and stopped selling -- though he continued repairing -- air conditioners and doing general repairs while turning the bulk of his attention to auto glass.
The only auto repairs he continued to do were for elderly women the family referred to as "Daddy’s Widows." Why? Because, Jerry knew that some auto repair services sold these people services they didn’t need and charged outlandishly high prices. They did them in the expectation they’d get away with gouging unsuspecting women.
And so Jerry continued serving them when their cars caused them concern.
Most of these women were delightful, and Jerry was always pleased when one drove into his shop. They’d ask after his family, particularly the ones they knew well, making comments that pleased them and Jerry both. And, of course, he asked after them and their families making a particular point of asking after grandchildren. I’m sure, dear reader, you know exactly the kind of conversations Jerry and his clients enjoyed.
But Jerry’s widows, like the rest of us, also had some idiosyncrasies. One woman, for example, was very persnickety and so he made certain that everything was just so when he finished with her car. And so, most often his interactions with her were fine.
But on one occasion, things didn’t go so well.
The hot summer was upon Safford, and the woman decided it was time for her to put an air conditioner in her beloved car. So, she brought her car in and ferried her home while he installed the device, picking her up when he knew the car would become delightfully cool whenever the woman set the controls the way she wanted them.
But she came back angry the next day. “How come,” she demanded, “the air conditioner stopped the first day after you installed it?” She went on to say that if he couldn’t fix it, she wanted her money back. So Jerry smiled, suggested she sit in the waiting area, left the task he’d been working on, and laid down on his back on the floor of her car’s front seat in anticipation of sliding his head under the dashboard to begin searching for the air conditioner’s problem.
That’s when he noticed an empty Kleenex box directly under the air conditioner’s air intake. He slid the box out of the way so he could better see more. That’s when he noticed a little piece of Kleenex hanging out of the intake.
Using his thumb and forefinger, he reached in and pulled out not only the corner of the tissue, but the rest of it as well. And then he noticed another corner of another Kleenex tissue and he pulled it out, too.
I’m sure by now you expect he continued on this errand until the intake yielded no more hidden Kleenexes. And when Jerry pulled himself from the car, the air conditioner worked perfectly.
Thus a delighted daddy’s widow got back in her car and drove home without giving a further thought to what had just happened.
Hank Slotnick is a retired UND professor who, with his wife, winters in Pima, Ariz., and summers in Debs.