I was sick on Friday, and luckily I was home when dad got yet another flat tire. The first flat tire happened on the way to Lincoln several months ago. He was driving down I-80 when his rear tire shredded. He called me for help, and I, in turn, called my son, Kyle, who lived about 5 minutes away from Greenwood where Vitauts’ car sat motionless on the shoulder.
Kyle met dad, changed his tire, and became a hero. Dad tells and retells the story about calling Kyle, and I think I too have repeated that same story.
This Friday, Vitauts came inside and found me sitting at my computer in my office. “Jeffrey, can you help me?” He has to be the proudest 88 year-old man in the world. His tire was low, and he told me he had been putting air in it now and again, but now it was truly flat. He had parked his big, red Mercury in the driveway. The spare tire was sitting next to the car along with the jack and other tools. He had tried and failed to change the tire himself. He couldn’t get the hubcap off.
I put on a jacket and went to inspect the tire myself. After trying in vain to remove the hubcap, I realized that it was locked and needed some stupid special tool. I started digging through the trunk. I wanted to write a poem about the contents of an old man’s trunk.
Twenty-three beeswax candles
partly melted, crooked, leftovers
from a life working in the church,
kept in a broken box in the trunk…
just in case.
I took all the candles out and started digging for the special key to remove the hubcap.
Three crumpled baseball caps
One said “Latvia”
I didn’t read the others
One Soviet-style fur hat stood by itself
I always wondered where he had gotten
the brown fur hat, and where it had gone.
I found a second jack and pry bar, identical to the ones that dad had already laid out for me. He had now ambled down the stairs to join me. I explained what I was looking for, “Ja, I know I have that tool somewhere…” He then started digging through the trunk himself. Four big, heavy blankets. I watched for a moment and then went inside.
I called Kyle to see if he remembered where he had placed the special key to the hubcaps. He didn’t remember, and he went to see if maybe he had put it in his car by mistake. In the meantime, I went online to see if I could find a key or a workaround. It didn’t seem like there was much hope. People had written that they had taken their cars to Ford dealers, and not even they could take the hubcaps off.
After Kyle called back to let me know that he didn’t find the key, I went back outside to search inside the car. I looked in the glovebox. Nothing. Well, lots of junk, but no key.
I went back to the tire to inspect it to see if there was some way to get the stupid hubcap off. Dad was standing there watching, folding up the blankets carefully and placing them back in the trunk. He watched me and then said, “I found it.” He was so calm about it. Didn’t he know I had been desperately looking for this little key for the past twenty minutes? The key was simple, a cross-shaped wrench with a very special octagonal wavy head. Dad had already taken the screw out. I pried the hubcap off, and we both laughed about how easy it was.
Then I jacked up the car, tried loosening the lug nuts, and they were frozen. Rusted solid. “Let me try,” my father said, but I refused. I tugged and pushed and struggled until the nut cracked; soon, I had loosened them all.
The rest of the process was academic. As I changed the tire, dad watched telling me the story about Kyle again and telling me how much faster Kyle was than I was. I couldn’t help but laugh as I struggled with the crappy jack handle, lying on the cold October concrete of our broken driveway.