He's got the whole world in his car

'I got a new car today!" my dad announced joyfully at the airport, as my daughter and I pulled our luggage off the baggage carousel. In the parking lot I saw that, except for being new, it was just like the old one: an SUV, white, and full of junk.

Of course, my dad - as practical as he is jovial - doesn't see it as junk. He finds the various items (which are boxed and crated fairly neatly, actually) indispensable. For example, as a volunteer fireman, he wouldn't want to be without his flashing blue light, his searchlight, or his red wand flashlight for directing traffic at night. His ski-patrol backpack could come in handy on or off the slopes.

And the 60-amp battery charger? Great when you've left your lights on. But for batteries that are only mildly dead, the jumper cables that plug into a car's cigarette lighter are much more convenient.

Then there's the stuff he might need when he's working on his sailboat: 30 pounds or so of normal boat-maintenance equipment, plus such extras as lighter fluid (for the lighter to melt the ends of nylon rope so it won't unravel) and two sets of taps and dies, English and metric (in case a screw breaks and must be extracted).

Dad likes to be equipped for helping a friend with whatever job needs doing. So his car holds, not a mere toolbox, but a workshop on wheels, complete with trouble light and spare bulb; extension cords; mirrors (for working in places you can't see straight into); a snake light (for getting into skinny places) and a spare snake light; a digital volt meter; kneepads for on-the-job comfort; and rags, waterless hand cleaner, and trash bags for cleaning up when the job's done.

On top of all that is a pair of long-handled pruning shears - handy if he were to happen by his Christmas tree farm (or anyone else's).

To us, it's ridiculous to haul around six laundry baskets of junk. But Dad's motto is, "You never know when you'll need this stuff," and he has stories to prove it.

So, there we were at the airport, and it took us 15 minutes of juggling to make room for our luggage. The ride home was uneventful except for the minor casualty that occurred when something slid from the top of the pile into my daughter's head.

The real blow came when I entered my childhood home. I think I staggered a little, and not from the weight of the suitcases. Family dignity prevents me from describing in detail the scene that greeted me. Let's just say it took all the virtue I have to keep my mouth shut.

Dad wouldn't hear of me cleaning his house. "No! Don't move anything!" he insisted. "When people move things, I can never find anything!"

But he did agree to let me paint the floor of the screened porch. To expose the floor, we carried out not only porch furniture, but also a sailing dinghy, a boat trailer, an old couch, and a box or two of miscellaneous useful items.

A sister and her husband had agreed to help, so we went to pick them up at the marina where their boat was moored. When they arrived at the car carrying two cat cages, it was clear Dad would have to leave some of his car stowage behind.

This was most disconcerting to my father, and it took him multiple passes to figure out which items were least indispensable for the next two days.

MY SISTER was quite unfazed when she walked into the house, especially for someone who owns (and uses) seven vacuum cleaners.

My brother-in-law only chuckled when he saw the various-size skis stashed behind the front door. "Well," he joked, "if we need some skis while we're here, we'll have them handy."

"That's right," I said, "It could snow tomorrow, and we might have to ski to the store for food. You never know."

As we got going on our projects, we had to admit Dad was very successful at producing whatever tool we needed.

The porch was coming out so beautifully we were inspired to spruce up the porch furniture, too. My sister spray-painted an antique wicker chair, and I promised to recover the cushion before I left two days hence.

Things were looking much better on the morning of my departure. Finally, I was ready to put the finishing touches on that wicker chair. But neither of the fabric stores in town had suitable fabric in stock.

"What you want is 'Sunbrella,' " one clerk said on the phone. "I have samples here in the store, but we'd have to order it." Disappointed, I told my dad that the project would have to wait.

"Oh, I have some 'Sunbrella' fabric," he responded cheerfully. "It's in the northeast corner of the living room, between the baseball bats and the metal detector."

In disbelief I found it - just enough to staple over the chair cushion.

Touch, Dad.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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