June 23, 2017

Love and Marriage

Illustration by George Danby

Illustration by George Danby

• By John F. Chisholm •

February 14, 2013 – I’m rebuilding the hydraulic systems on my 1957 Land Rover.  That’s more involved than you might guess.

First, remember that this truck is old.  Second, like all of us, it wasn’t always.  It was new once.  There’s a 1978 New Hampshire inspection sticker on the windshield.  By then it had likely been driven though the slop and slurry of 21 New England winters.  Snow, slush, salt and sand have a way of catching up with vehicles, just the way living catches up with us.

The cylinders are cast aluminum. Of the hydraulic systems, the clutch and the brakes, they’re almost all that’s salvageable today.

That might be true but please don’t imagine they come off easily or, once that’s accomplished, that they’re a snap to disassemble.

Time has had 56 years to work its woe.  Natural rubber seals shrink, harden and turn into glue.  They rival epoxy for holding power.  The flex-lines craze, crack and crumble, becoming inflexible in the process.

The hub seals are genuine leather.  Never mind saving them.  They haven’t been a cow for more than a half century.  It shows.

Meanwhile, electrolysis hasn’t been idle.  Aluminum is pitted, steel rusted and copper caked in green.  Nuts and bolts are no longer hexes.  They’re crumbling globs of rusty, red metal.  Whatever remains are joined in unholy matrimony.  Divorce is unthinkable, death the only parting.  True to the last, the vast majority have to be cut for removal.

Any surviving steel lines are tetanus injections, rusted hypodermic needles just looking for the unwary, unwise and unvaccinated.   Me.

Trust me.  I have been so whacked.  Many times.

But they aren’t the only health risk.  Brake shoes were real asbestos in 1957.  Snorting their remains is ill-advised.  But there’s no shortage.  Each brake drum is filled.

On top of all this ― perhaps because of it ― replacement parts are not common.  They’re not free once located, either.

I shake my head at that.  All this and I’m paying to do it.

In fact, I’ve spent the morning thinking about it.  Taking apart the brakes is merely what my hands are doing.  The rest of me is making this list.  Don’t feel that I’ve exaggerated.  I haven’t.  Not even a bit.  Disassembly at this late stage is never a smooth process.  I’ve used every obscenity known to man at least twice.  More.  I’ve even invented a few.  “Brakamit!” is one of my more popular.

The door creaks.  My wife sticks her head in the garage.  “Happy Valentine’s Day.”

I look around, up and then down, unconvinced.  Finally I agree.  “Yes.”  The dust mask covering my face muffles the word.  My hands are black, knuckles bleeding.

“I love you,” she continues.

I set my wrench down at that, step around the fender and examine her carefully.  She’s clean, dressed in a pink, pressed blouse, dark corduroy trousers and a Fair Isle sweater.  She looks sane.  I glance down at my own stained, torn, frayed and filthy dungarees.  My T-shirt has more holes than cotton.  The contrast between us is striking.  I don’t have a mirror.  That’s a good thing, I decide.  I pull the dust mask from my face, grimacing at the grime coating.  I look at her again.  “What?”

“I love you,” she insists.  I look at my Land Rover.  Despite all the work needed, despite being in pieces, despite missing more than a few other, important pieces, it’s a great old truck.  Perhaps, simply because it is so much work, I find it irresistible.

It occurs to me that a husband might be the same sort of project, open-ended, never completed, potentially hazardous, bad for your health and far from beautiful.  Beyond that, just like the Land Rover, I’m decrepit and falling apart with age.  And she loves me?

I face Wendy and peer closely.   I’m amazed.  It’s clear that she’s sincere.  This is real.  There simply isn’t any other explanation.  Wow.

I don’t offer to kiss her.  I’m sure she’s delighted by the decision.  Instead I wipe my hands on a rag even more filthy then they.  Surprise!  It doesn’t help.  I clear my throat.  “Happy Valentine’s Day,” I agree.

“Well?” she demands, foot tapping, impatient.

“Maybe the left front brakes don’t look quite so hopeless, after all.”

“What!”  Her eyebrows lift, her tone dangerous.

I smile at my wife.  There’s no point in my being cute.  Not now.  We’ve been married 29 years, almost as long as I’ve been working on this Land Rover.

She’s earned this:

“I love you, too.”