On car-washing

I washed my car today—something I hadn’t realized how much I’d missed. Especially on warm, sunny days like this one, I love running the cool stream of hosewater over my hands and wrists, dunking a thick towel into a bucket of soapy water. It felt like good industry, cleaning that layer of dust and crusted bugs off the hood. I felt capable, in a way that driving through the car wash couldn’t have provided.

As I hand-dried the car with rags and hung them on the backyard fence to dry, I remembered doing the same thing with my dad, as a child. He would wash the family’s two cars, using special soaps and waxes and polishes whose distinctions are still a mystery to me. I, meanwhile, would imitate him by pulling my bicycle out of the garage and washing it. Copying my dad’s slow thoroughness, I would clean under the seat and between each of the tires’ spokes. I used Windex and paper towels on the brake handles and the metal wheel rims until they shone in the sunlight. My bike back in the garage, nestled between the lawnmower and a yellow wheelbarrow, I’d join my dad in drying the cars. He kept a bag of rags—mostly old T-shirts, on a pegboard in the garage, and I’d hoist that heavy bag outside. Rags in hand, we dried the cars’ shiny, slick hoods and doors until the rags sopped with water. We hung them out to dry, anyplace we could find: the branches of the pear tree that shaded our driveway, the lamp fixtures on either side of the garage door, until the rags occupied every possible drying spot. So when, today, I hung my one wet rag—or really, it was my bathroom hand towel—on the fence, my own job seemed meager compared to the work my dad and I used to do together. It’s still out there drying, in the shade because the afternoon sun hits the other side of the house, and I might just leave it out there a while, a reminder of the simple task that felt so good.

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