BITS and PIECES # 36

2

October 9, 2013 by palamow

BITS and PIECES # 36

Hello again from Luquillo,

Sorry to have been ‘un-blogged’ for a few weeks — I have been busily occupied with putting the final editing touches to ‘The Day It Rained Frogs in the Forest’ — my long-promised children’s rainforest adventure/picture book is finally done! I submitted the completed manuscript electronically to my publisher last Friday, and am anxiously awaiting a proof copy in the mail. If all goes well, it will be available for sale at Amazon.com by late October/early November — and at the Eastern National Book Store in Puerto Rico’s El Yunque National Forest soon after that (if the current government shutdown ends soon!)…

Pam and I are extremely excited!

In the meantime, here is another story for you, gleaned as usual from my aging memory storehouse — I hope you’ll find it an enjoyable read…

BRONCO

According to the radio, it was 20 below zero outside my Holiday Inn motel room in International Falls, Minnesota, colder yet if you factored-in the wind chill. Since I was a relative newcomer to northern Minnesota’s deep-freeze winters, I had failed to install a block heater on the engine of my 69′ Chevy, now parked outside the door of my motel room. I was forced to disconnect and remove the battery and lug it into the room so that it wouldn’t freeze-up. I set my travel-alarm to wake me every two hours. When I heard its jangling ring, I would climb out of my snug bed, get dressed in wool socks, thermal boots, thick gloves, a thick scarf and an insulated coat, pick up the unwieldy battery and carry it back out to the car. I’d pop the hood and reconnect the battery, crank the reluctant engine and then wait while it warmed up sufficiently to morph the oil in the block from icy sludge to viscous lubricant…

Sometime around 2 am, I failed to awake and thus carry-out this vital process — when I finally opened my scratchy eyes around 7 am to trudge once more to my ice-covered car, the battery ran down before the now hopelessly frozen engine would cooperate.  I had a 9 am appointment at the engineering department of the local community college, and a lifeless automobile…

I wearily slogged back to my motel room, slipped the phone book from its drawer in the bedside table and began searching for help.  I found a listing for a nearby Union 76 station, dialed the number, and told the fellow that answered about my problem. He promised to send his helper along as soon as he showed-up — probably in a half hour or so…

When his young helper arrived, driving a tow truck, he parked behind my car, climbed down from the cab, popped the hood of the Chevy, and swiftly connected the truck’s electrical system to my recently deceased battery. He then removed the air cleaner and using an aerosol can of ether, sprayed an astonishing amount of the noxious substance directly into the now exposed throat of the Chevy’s carburetor. He glanced-up at me and said “OK pal – give her a crank”. When I complied the engine turned over very slowly and for a long moment exhibited no vital signs indicating recuperation. Then suddenly, a sheet of flame shot out to the carburetor, accompanied by a loud bang and simultaneously, the rocker covers blew off the V-8 engine block and soared into the air like twin depth charges expelled from the deck of a destroyer!

“I think I might have used too much ether just then” the young helper stammered ruefully…

After he had hooked-up my car to the tow truck and I had scrambled across the parking lot to retrieve the truncated remains of my rocker covers, we trundled off to the Union 76 station for further analysis and (hopefully) swift repairs. When we arrived, the proprietor, a tall, powerfully built, weather-beaten old fellow with massive shoulders and very large hands, surveyed the situation and, shaking his grizzled gray head, said “Don’t know where I can get new rocker covers for a 69′ Chevy here in International Falls, but I think I can hammer those ones back into good enough shape, and weld-up the bolt holes enough — if I replace the gaskets and she don’t leak, you should be able to drive her back to Minneapolis – it shouldn’t take me more’n an hour or so.”

Having no other option, I approved his plan and quickly moved myself into the relative warmth of the filling station’s office to wait anxiously for results…

As I paced restlessly back and forth across the grimy tiled floor, I noticed a revolving rack of post cards on top of the glass counter that occupied the back wall. Curiously, they were all full-color depictions of the same football player, clad in the vintage uniform of the 1930s Chicago Bears — looking closely, I realized that, the player on the cards looked vaguely familiar — then I suddenly realized why — despite his advanced age and grizzled gray head, the old fellow who was hammering on my rocker covers bore a close resemblance to the football player on the postcard…

Peering closer, I saw that the name printed underneath each of the photos was ‘Bronco Nagurski’…

Striding back outside into the cold, I looked-up and saw that the sign over the station read ‘Nagurski’s Union 76’ — The famous Chicago Bears legend was pounding the dents out of my rocker covers! I re-entered the office, took a post card off the rack and carefully placed the appropriate change into the cup next to the stand. Looking through the steamed-up glass door that separated the office from the work area, I saw that Bronco (if it was indeed he) had paused to fill a scruffy enamel cup with coffee from an equally battered urn on the workbench. I seized this opportunity to approach and ask him if he would please autograph my newly acquired postcard…

“Sure thing” he replied, smiling, as he wiped his outsize hands with a rag, “Who should I make it out to?”  I gave him my name and while he was signing the card, I casually mentioned that my mother, whose maiden name had been Lorayne Carpenter, was ‘Chicago born and bred’ and had once or twice dated his equally famous teammate Red Grange, the ‘Galloping Ghost’ back in the day. Bronco furrowed his brow and, squinting at the ceiling, replied “Yeah, I kind of remember her; she was a stage actress, wasn’t she?” Slightly surprised, I answered “Yes, she worked in stock company presentations of Broadway plays in local Chicago theaters — at one point she appeared in one performance opposite a British actor fresh from Broadway — they fell in love and soon after, eloped to Reno to be married, ending her acting career (and his bachelorhood) when she assumed her new role as wife, and eventually a mother. “I’ll be darned” he mused “I saw her in a couple of plays – she was very pretty and a good actress, and very popular — I wondered why she suddenly disappeared from the stage in Chicago.”

As he finished his coffee and was turning back to the job of rehabilitating my rocker covers, I asked if I could use his phone for a local call — “Sure, help yourself” he replied. I went back into the warm office and called the Community College to explain my predicament and reschedule my appointment. In another half hour Bronco had finished the job and reinstalled my rocker covers and tested the efficacy of his work. All was deemed OK for my _____ mile trip back to Minneapolis, although Bronco cautioned “Don’t kick it too hard, keep it under sixty and you should be OK” As I reached for my wallet to pay for the work, he put a giant paw on my shoulder, and said “It was my helper’s mistake that caused your problem — so no charge for the labor – besides, it was a nice change remembering old times.”

I thanked him for his courtesy, his labor, and especially for giving me the opportunity to meet a living football legend. I promised to let my mother know that he had remembered her, and waved as I drove-off to my appointment at the college…

Later that day as I drove (slowly and carefully) back to Minneapolis, I thought about how extremely small our world often turns out to be, and how our life stories occasionally intertwine in interesting ways, despite the intervening years and span of geography…

When I called my mother that weekend to tell her of my encounter with Bronco, she said “Bronco who?” (She was never much of a football fan), but when I mentioned Red Grange, it all came back in a flood of memories. “When we were dating, Red would bring some of his teammates to see the play I was in; ‘A Kiss in a Taxi’ I think it was, they didn’t seem too happy to be exposed to culture!”

I never had a chance to get Bronco’s take on her words, my peripatetic engineering career took me and my family from Minnesota to Massachusetts soon afterward, so, regrettably, I never saw him again…

I kept the signed postcard for years, but then it was lost, mislaid or mistakenly thrown away as so often happens to ephemeral family artifacts…

Ah Well — providentially, memories survive mostly intact…

© 2013 – Alan Mowbray Jr.

 

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2 thoughts on “BITS and PIECES # 36

  1. mkhulu says:

    Again you’ve proven to be “the most interesting man in the world.”

  2. paul herriott says:

    Alan:Great story..!…whatta encounter..shot a commerical in Fort McMurray Alta.where they never turn off their engines..20-40 below Zero…all the shopping areas have two plugs for your car when you park, one for the Block heater and the other for the inside car heater…we filmed the Alta. Tar Sands @ 40 degrees (-)Below.. My Dad used to talk about “Red” Grange, the Galloping Ghost and Bronco Nagurski when I was a boy…so I became a football buff, Loving the Chicago Bears but Dad would not let me play till I gained 50-60 lbs of Muscle….which I accomplished…played and was never hurt, but quit the game at 20 Years. The Bears are still significant as is/was Chicago..(Studied and worked there.-50’s) Chicago theatre:When I worked for ABC-/WBKB-Chicago in 1955-56, the Goodman theatre was graduating young acors ,Actresses, so We lived on the Near-North side in a theatrical Apartment house with two ambi- Landladies that loved the ‘Touring Casts’ from New York..so we partied with the cast of “Teahouse of the August Moon, “No Time for Sergeants” and Fran Allison of Kukla , Fran and Ollie…(K.F.A) Mr/Roberts, (+) others..comedy was rampant with Mort Sahl at the “Hungry I”, clubs on Rush street The Black Orchid with Don Adams & Frances Faye. jazz with Oscar Peterson @ The London HOuse. Great memories….ph

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