Sunday, June 21, 2009

This and That

When I was visiting my sister out of town last month, I found a biography of Harry Truman by his daughter Margaret, and snapped it up. I had read his oral autobiography, Plain Speaking, and David McCullough's biography. Now, I knew very little about Truman before reading these books -- except that my junior-year American history teacher at De La Salle in Minneapolis, Brother "Ralph," said that history would come to judge Truman as one of the greatest of American presidents. After reading these three books, I'm inclined to agree with Brother Ralph. One other thing: I suspect very strongly that if Truman were alive and active today, he would give most of the current Democrats hell, especially the man who claims to be president today. "Give 'em hell, Harry!" Amen!

Yesterday, while shopping for car parts (plug wires and air filters) I went past a book store and found two translations of Virgil's Aeneid, one in prose and one in verse. I can't remember ever having read the Aeneid before, but after a couple of hours at it, I could slap my forehead for that lapse (oh, well, c'est la guerre), and I could see why the story has lasted two thousand years: it's a page-turner adventure story. Just like the Iliad and the Odyssey.

At the book store I also found a copy of the Marx Brothers' "Animal Crackers," and a copy of "To Hell and Back," the 1955 movie about Audie Murphy in which he played himself. We boys drooled with anticipation when we heard the movie was being made. I think I saw it twice or three times. Murphy's book was first published in 1949, and the paperback edition in 1951; my dad bought the paperback, and it's now on my shelves. To us boys in 1955, our dads and uncles and all the men and women who served in the armed forces during the War were our heroes. I think, looking back, that we could hardly have closen better, and Tom Brokaw was right.

As long as I'm on the subject, I have to give a hat-tip to men and women of other nations who helped defeat the "Thousand-year Reich" and the "Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere." Especially to the very courageous hommes et femmes of the French Resistance - not to ignore the resistance movements in Denmark, Norway, Poland - and even the German White Rose Society, young people who spread anti-Nazi propaganda and were beheaded for it.

Back to the car. I got my first car in the spring of 1970 when I was 26 -- which I bet hardly a youngster today will believe. It was a 1963 Valiant, with the 190-cubic-inch slant-six engine. That was an awful good first car. For one thing, you could do almost everything yourself, including tuning and timing. My dad and older brother taught me how to do the clean sweep of fall maintenance; "You take care of your car in the fall, and your car will take care of you all winter," Pop used to say. He was right: that Valiant started one morning when it was 34 below here, and that without being plugged in. I had to use both hands to turn the key, and when it first fired off, I could hear each cylinder exploding.

After the Valiant, I bought a 1975 Duster, new, with the 225-cu.-in. slant-six engine and a "five-in-the floor" standard transmission. It was a nice tradeoff between power and economy. I ran it for ten years, 180,000 miles, and resold it. Bought a 1985 Honda Civic hatchback wagon, new, and drove that for twenty years until it just plain died. I was hoping to get a quarter of a million miles out of it, but didn't quite make it. That little car had five forward speeds, plus a super-low gear that you could only engage when you turned on the four-wheel drive. When I test-drove one, I drove it on the freeway, on city streets, and finally into a sandy vacant lot, where I drove it up to the hubcaps in sand and stopped. I engaged the four-wheel drive, put it into super-low, geeennntly let in the clutch, and just rolled right out. That car never got stuck anywhere, anyime, not even during the 1991 Hallowe'en Megastorm.

I was used to doing all my own work on a car, but by 1985 I was getting tired of "get out and get under" (an old song from my parents' youth), plus the works under the hood was a three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle -- as is my present 1993 Dodge Caravan. So when I replaced the plug wires on the Caravan day before yesterday, it was the first time in about 20 years that I'd done that kind of under-the-hood work, and I was pleased that it wasn't as bad as I'd feared it would be. Even though I had to remove the whole air filter assembly to get at the back plugs. And of course I lost one part and had one part left over. (Murphy.) But as the old codger said to his wife, "I may not be as good as I was, but I'm as good once as I ever was." And I was right about the wires being the problem: the misfiring disappeared immediately.

Sometimes I'm so clever I just can't stand myself. Nyuk nyuk nyuk. And I'm so modest about it, too.

That's all, folks. Peace and blessings!

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