This Little Light of Mine


Let’s just say I’m lacking.

My dad could fix almost anything mechanical.  His degree came from the School of Necessity, a university a lot of men attended in the mid-20th century South.  We were not poor by standards then or now, but there wasn’t a lot of cash lying around to spend on things like eating out or buying new cars.  I think dad only had one new vehicle, a Chevy pickup that he managed to keep running for the last 15 years of his too-short life.

Some traits are genetic.  Mechanical ability apparently is not.  Or perhaps it just skips a generation every now and then.  I am mechanically-challenged.  My youngest son is not.  He simply clicks-up YouTube, watches a couple of videos, then proceeds to do things like rebuild the front end of a wrecked motorcycle he bought at a good price.

I watch the videos too.  All they do for me is remind me that I am a mechanical doofus.

It’s not that I didn’t have my chances to learn.  My dad worked on that aforementioned  pickup almost as frequently as he stopped to put gas in it.  I remember replaced starters, water pumps, radiators — even a transmission.  I was the assistant for all these repairs, but I didn’t learn the skills to actually do them.

I was standing right there.  But my mind was not.  It was always somewhere else, like on that girl in seventh grade homeroom, the skinny one with the big brown eyes and the double railroad track braces.

I did develop a specialty, however, one that I am skillful at even today.  It’s called “HOLD THE LIGHT OVER HERE.”

I don’t know why that old pickup had a tendency to break down in darkness, or maybe we just didn’t get finished before sunset.  But dad was going to finish.  Not finishing meant not having a way to get to work the next day.  Not working meant not getting paid.  Not getting paid meant not — well, you get the picture.

My skill at “HOLD THAT LIGHT OVER HERE” was developed through a rigorous training system that usually went something like this:

“Hold that light over here on the bolt.”

“Yes, April, I would like to hold your hand.”


“Uh, um, yessir.”

“No son, on the bolt, not on my hand.  I can see my hand.  Shine it on the bolt.”


“On the bolt, son.  HOLD THAT LIGHT OVER HERE.”

It took years to master.

A few nights ago the Redhead called me from a gas station.  “I just filled-up, and now it won’t start.  All the indicator lights are flashing on the dashboard, but it won’t turn over.  Not even a click.”

“Ah,” I said.  “The battery is dead.  I’ll grab some tools and a flashlight and be there in a few.”

Fortunately, there was an Advance Auto Parts right across the highway.  I managed to get the battery out.  Ran over and bought the replacement.  Dropped it right back in.  But the cables would not fully-tighten on the posts.

“This must be the wrong battery,” I said.  “They’re on well enough to get us over to the store.  Follow me.”

There was no look of skepticism or disappointment.  The Redhead knows my limitations.

Parts Guy immediately diagnosed the problem.  “These new batteries are made so that the cables won’t fit tight on the terminals.  You need sleeves.  We have those.  Let me grab a set and I’ll help you hook it up.”

No, I did not ask why he didn’t sell me the sleeves when he sold me the battery.  But I sure thought it.

Parts Guy had trouble with the installation too.  After twenty minutes of wriggling, cussing and finagling he finally got that battery installed properly.  I just stood there, flashlight in hand.

Not once did he say “HOLD THAT LIGHT OVER HERE.”

I told you I had skills.


Author’s note:  This is not a Christmas story per se, as you might have expected.  But in a way it is, at least in a metaphorical sense.

A lot of people will have difficulty seeing the light today in a sea of darkness.

If you have the light, try to shine it in some way that may help them see it too.

12 thoughts on “This Little Light of Mine

  1. I too was educated in the school of “hold the light”. My dad called it a Trouble Light.
    “Here, hold the Trouble Light right here.”
    “OK Dad, why do they call it a Trouble Light anyway?”
    “People often get electrocuted by them.”

    THAT was enlightening. Merry Christmas.

    1. Sounds like the time my dad handed me the plug wire on the lawn mower and said “I’ll give it a pull and you see if it’s getting any fire.”

      Merry Christmas to you.

  2. LOL! I raised three boys. They all had the skills to (fix) get a car running. Their dad did not! smileee The middle boy gave it up when the new SMART cars became smarter than him. The oldest son had no choice, he drove an eighteen wheeler for awhile, so he had to keep up his skills! BUT, the youngest boy is still working on family cars….. you see he was the only bread winner for a wife and two daughters. The girls are grown and driving. The wife is working and has her own car….. let’s see….. each GIRL plus his wife has a car, family van, he has a car and two trucks…… He keeps all of them running; most any day you can find him fixing someone’s car!! ….. It is a wonder he has time to even go to work!
    PS:0 He kept his Toyota (it was the ONLY car) on the road for 22 years!! His oldest daughter was driving it from work when someone T – boned her…. It was almost like a death in the family to say farwell old friend! (no one was hurt)
    Love is good!

  3. You shine the light, Ray, and you do a good job too.

    For some reason, I would have figured you for a mechanical fellow. Dunno why. I’m not much of a mechanical fellow either, though I would love to be. Simply never had the interest when I was young.

    Maybe the parts guy did not sell you the sleeves at the get-go because he thought you’d use sleeves that were already on the bad battery.

    Sometimes people are just difficult to understand.

    1. Thank you.

      There were no sleeves on the old battery. Parts guy said they were manufactured that way today because “too many people were hooking them up backwards and shorting-out the electrical systems.”

  4. Such a nice story Ray. We all excell in other things to make up for what we are lacking in. I received a fine telescope as a Christmas gift the other day and it may be awhile before I’ll be gazing at our night sky due to the zillion lenses that make up this appreature. But I created the most beautiful Red Velvet Yule Log cake Christmas dessert. Happy New Year to you and your Redhead, Ray.

    1. Wait…Red Velvet cake? I have skill in eating Red Velvet cakes. It’s a Christmas tradition among the Clifton clan.

      Too bad we don’t live in the same territory. I’d send my son over to assemble that telescope (and bring Pops some cake).

      Happy New Year, Leisa.

  5. Mmmmm. Getting paid for writing. I did that once. I took a part time job as a parking ticket officer for the summer. Four hours a day trolling the downtown area issuing citations for meters running out, parking over the white line, and handicap violations. That last one was a hundred dollar bitch. The others were just ten dollar pissed off people.

    Once in a while an irate vehicle owner would beg me to take back the ticket. No way fella. It’s hot, my feet are killing me, I’m getting minimum wage with no benefits, and your ass wants to argue over my expert law enforcement techniques.

    Getting paid for writing is not all it is cracked up to be.

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