Sunday, December 13, 2009

I See... The Christmas Car

Modern times has turned Christmas into a meaningful adjective. First there was the Christmas Box; then the Christmas Jar, and most recently there has been a Christmas Sweater making the rounds. Each one of these objects has a lesson to share about peace, goodwill, and the love of God in our lives. In our house, however, we have a Christmas Car to remind us the reason for the season.

It was two seasons ago during one of our most forgettable Christmases. After 18 Decembers of visiting Christmas lights on temple grounds, making and delivering cookies to adopted family members in our ward, and a host of other traditional family bonding activities, we were without our missionary son for the first time. Our daughter was weathering the winds of teenage relationship angst. I was working two jobs, and in the two weeks leading up to Christmas, I had wrecked one family car, and our son's junkmobil had just jettisoned its exhaust system. Although Christmas this year was not promising to be as merry as previous years, we were still determined to celebrate somehow. Three days before Christmas we drove our one remaining working car 45 minutes away to a glorious drive-through Christmas lights display hosted as a fundraiser for the local hospital. As we struggled to salvage the spirit of the season by viewing the beautiful lights display from the lazy indoor comfort of our extremely used SUV, we heard... the sound.

You know, the sound. You know that sound. We have all heard that sound before from underneath the engine hood. We don't know what it is, or why it is, but our primeval instincts tell us that it is something serious and expensive. We heard that sound while trying to enjoy the glittering light display and then all during the suspenseful ride home. Was it getting louder? We think so. Will we make it home? Probably...

The next morning, the day before Christmas eve, I drove it up the street to our neighborhood mechanic. The arrangement we had with this repair shop was straight out of an idyllic novel about the way things used to be, or perhaps the way they were supposed to be. We had taken our cars to them for years, and they had always taken care of us. They definitely weren't the cheapest shop in town, but they were the closest, and we trusted them to do good work. I drove it up right into the repair bay and described the sound to them. They handed me a donut and a cup of hot chocolate, and started off humbly, “ok... Let's take a look at this.”

It didn't take them long to isolate the problem. “You're lucky you didn't have a total breakdown!” they gasped. They pulled a large greasy part they call an alternator out of the engine. “The bolt that keeps the alternator connected to the engine has broken off. It was just sitting there. If we can drill the old bolt out and find a new one, we can fix it in about 30 minutes.”

“How much will we have to pay?” I asked tentatively, afraid of the costly response.

“Well, if we can't remove the bolt, we'll have to order and install a whole new alternator.” they replied. “Parts and labor about $300.”

Their answer struck fear and panic to the heart of our civil-servant one-income household. I knew, however, that if I had taken the car to one of the other major chain car care centers, they would have locked me out of the garage and not even tried to attempt the cheaper alternative, so I harbored a secret hope that my neighborhood mechanics would be successful.

For the next 30 minutes, I worked beside them inside the garage, holding tools and bolts and belts while they grunted and struggled to remove the bolt and successfully install a new one. After what we had been through the past few weeks, it was a pleasant Christmas gift to know that we had at least one car running smoothly withour breaking our family bank! I was prepared to reimbursement them for the labor and the new bolt.

As I was reaching for my wallet, the mechanic who had completed the repair yelled at the shop owner at the other side of the garage, “how much do we charge for this?”

There was a long, suspenseful pause. The shop owner walked over to our car, looked deep into my eyes for moment, and then a slight, crooked smile broke out across his face. “No charge!” he replied. “Merry Christmas!”

And that is the story of the Christmas Car.

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