Iron Mountain ski jump

Iron Mountain ski jump

Friday, April 11, 2014


CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith from a place of winter For the Years of Winter…

People in their winter years often complain that younger people won’t listen to us. We have trouble getting the attention of generations far down the alphabet. Not Helen. She just says, “I once shut a garage door on my head.” Everybody wants to hear that story.

I was doing doctoral work at U of IA. I had a Danforth Fellowship for the first year, and I was assistant to the Director of the School of Religion, Jim Spalding, the second year. Helen was teaching part-time in the Home Ec Dept at the U. Those were decent jobs for graduate work, but with two daughters in school and considered out-of-state by the U, even though we owned a house and paid taxes in IA, we didn’t have any extra money.

But cars have to be serviced, so I took our Aztec Bronze 1966 Chevrolet Impala, the first car we ever had with air conditioning, an add-on model that basically froze the feet of the people in the front seat and didn’t do much for the rest of the car, to the Standard service station, because it was convenient. I could drop it off on the way to class, walk to campus, and walk back to pick it up. No interruption in school transportation for the girls or for Helen’s teaching.

When I walked up to the station, I saw that they were apparently finished with the servicing of our car, since it was parked outside, but it was parked at an odd angle. It took the space of three or four cars, a strange approach for a land-locked service station with little space.

I went in and paid for the lube and oil change. I mentioned the strange parking angle. “Oh, yes,” the owner said, “I didn’t want you to be upset when you walked up and saw the side of your car. Somebody backed our tow truck into it.” What he meant was, “I didn’t want you to see it until you had paid.”

“But don’t worry,” he went on. “We’ve arranged for it to be fixed, no expense to you.” I knew when he told me the name of the “no expense to me” auto body repair shop that no good would come from this: YOU SMASH ‘EM, WE FIX ‘EM. Yes, that was the name.

Each day I called YOU SMASH ‘EM to see if the car were ready. Each day there was some excuse why it was not. Each day Helen and the girls and I had to ride buses. The bus company didn’t know that this experience was to be at no expense to us.

Days later YOU SMASH ‘EM announced that the car was ready. I went to get it. The fender and doors that had been tow-trucked were now filled out nicely. The problem was that they were not the same color as the rest of the car. I pointed this out to the owner of YOU SMASH ‘EM. “Oh, hell,” he said. “Our paint guy is color-blind.” “You hired a color-blind guy to do your painting?” “Yeah, but it’s no problem. He just goes by the id numbers on the paint. He must have gotten the numbers mixed up. We’ll paint it again, no cost to you.” I thought that his idea of “no problem” was a problem.

Of course, they didn’t have Aztec Bronze in stock, and had to special order it, and we drove it for several days looking like fugitives from a junk yard. Then we had to give it back for the re-painting, no cost to us.

That was when Helen closed the garage door on her head. This sounds somewhere between difficult and impossible, but you need to understand the situation. The garage door was one piece of heavy wood. Helen was not tall enough, even with a jump, to get hold of the handle when the door was open. So she started it down from the inside and then ducked under it to get outside before it came all the way down. [Those old garages didn’t have service doors.] In the ducking-under process, the inside handle of the door whacked her on the top of her head. She reached up and felt blood. She also felt woozy. She knew she needed to go to the hospital. [No cell phones by which you could summon husbands regardless of where they were in those days; besides, she knew her husband didn’t have a car.] She walked to the bus stop, and in her woozy condition, got on the bus going the wrong way, rode to the end of the line, and rode back until she finally reached the hospital.

The point of life is to have a good time. Not a false good time, which is pleasure only, but a true good time, which goes beyond pleasure to joy. One way to have a good time is to make a bad experience into a good story. Helen has always gone for what makes the best story.

John Robert McFarland

The “place of winter” mentioned in the title line is Iron Mountain, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where life is defined by winter even in the summer!

I tweet, occasionally, as yooper1721.

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