When Zoë and Isaac were little, Joan and I would visit her folks in Attleboro, Massachusetts, whenever there was a three-day weekend. Since it was a five hour drive each way, having that extra day made Easter, Christmas, and the Thanksgiving holiday visit exceptionally pleasant since we would have a day we wouldn’t have to be in the car.
Thanksgiving weekend, 1986, we arrived at the house in Attleboro late Wednesday night, much to the joy of Amy and Sal, Joan’s parents, who were just as excited as we were for these visits. As soon as we had the kids and all their things unpacked and in the house, Sal, noticing the crumpled front fender of my Volvo, asked me, “What happened?” Joan had had a tiny fender-bender earlier in the month, being distracted by the kids in the back seat causing her to hit a parked car.
“Don’t know. I came out one morning and found the car just like that,” I lied.
Sal asked, “Would you like to fix it?”
“Sure,” I replied. “How would you propose I do that?”
“We could drive up to the junkyard in North Attleboro. Those guys have acres and acres of cars spread out in their yard behind the office. We would have to find your make and model, match the parts, bring them back here and put them on. The way it works is you strip off the parts you want, show them to the owner, and he gives you a price. We could go out tomorrow morning while Amy is cooking.”
“Sounds good to me,” I said.
The next morning, Joan’s sister’s MaryAnn and Valerie came to the house. While they were playing with the kids, and Amy and Joan were cooking, Sal and I headed out.
As luck would have it, we found not one but two junked cars that matched my 1971, 164 Volvo. That was lucky since there weren’t many of those cars to begin with. It was a good thing, too, since one had a fender in good condition, and the other had the mirror and front grill that also needed to be replaced. We filled my trunk with the parts we needed and the junkyard owner assessed the damage at $125.00. A bargain!!
We brought the parts back to the house, parked the car on the driveway. Sal and I planned how we would remove and reinstall all of the new old parts. This work was the biggest DIY auto-repair job I’d ever done. It was good to have Sal as my mentor.
The hardest part turned out to be removing the front grill which was attached to both the front bumper and the chassis. The bolt was bigger than anything my home repair tools could handle. Sal had a monkeywrench and length of pipe to use as a handle for leverage. The most nerve-racking moment was when the car was completely stripped of its right front fender, bumper, and grill. I thought, “Yikes. We don’t go home until this car is back together.”
This was a holiday weekend, so when the rest of the family came to dinner, we stopped working and wouldn’t resume until the next day. It took all of Friday and Saturday before the car was whole again. “OK, I have to drive around with a blue-grey Volvo, with a purple right front fender. No big deal. I’ll paint it at some point. I did a major repair on my own car, with a little help from my friends (father-in-law), ” I thought to myself proudly. “Whew,” I said aloud. “I was relieved to finish,” I thought to myself.
“Allen,” Sal said directly to me, “I’m impressed. I would never have been able to do that.”