I met this great man through his son, who happened to be
the driver of that Chevy van from the furniture store that
was my very first customer. Sarge isn’t his real name, but
that’s what I called him. He was a retired Marine Corps cook.
I met him one day when he came in with a sick Cadillac.
The old Cadillac hardly had any power at all; just as slow
and lazy as a snail. I was only in business for a few months,
and didn’t know anybody. I didn’t have any work to speak of,
so even though it wasn’t an electrical problem
(as he originally thought), I jumped right in and found the
problem. It was a clogged catalytic converter. Unbelievably,
it wasn’t even welded in place. I could take off the clamps,
and remove it without much hassle.
Back then I didn’t have a lift to put the car in the air, so I had to do the whole job on the ground. Well, old Sarge just sat there and watched me do the whole thing. I think he was a little suspicious of this skinny little white kid who was hacking away at his car, but he patiently waited, being the good man he was. We got to talking about things, and it wasn’t long before he found out that I was also in Marine Corps. Now we had some common ground. We were buds for life, always cutting up with each other.
One hot August afternoon Sarge brought in one of his other cars to get some work done. I had the back door to the shop open, and Sarge steps outside for a little fresh air. I thought I could hear the guy crying or mumbling something, couldn’t tell which it was. I stuck my head around the corner, “Sarge, ah …. you ok, buddy?” I asked.
He proceeded to tell me how the house he grew up in was close by, before it became a shopping center. He talked about his dad and family, and how he hunted rabbits right where we were standing. It was during the Depression. Hard times, and things were scarce in those days. How his dad hid a pig in a pit, not too far from here. Where they kept the corn mash for making moon shine. I sat and listened to this hardened Marine tell me his life’s story that day, from his first car to how he ended up in the Corps. I didn’t answer the phone, or go up front to see if anyone came in. I just sat out there in that August heat, drenched in sweat, listening to this fella tell me his life story.
I’ll never forget that afternoon. I’ll also never forget how every time he came to my shop over the next 25 years he would sneak up on me, and yell in a drill instructor voice, “TEN HUT!” I would snap to attention just like a good Marine should. Sometimes, just to get a rise out of Sarge I would purposely hit my head on the hood of the car I was working on. He got a kick out of it every time.
Sarge passed away a couple years back. I still think about him now and then. I hope he’s up there hunting rabbits, or something. Maybe he’s guarding the gates like every Marine hopes to be doing when their time comes. Or, he could be just waiting there to try and surprise me with one more “TEN HUT” when I show up.
Sarge, I miss having you around the shop.