I am not a carburetor man. Most things mechanical are outside the realm of my range of possibilities. Not so my father, whose hands sing songs of solder and braze to create harmonies of many parts as they caress the metals, bolts and screws that leave me cold and hyper-aware of my ineptitude. And so, the day began with worn mower blades that somehow had grown twine wrapped around a shaft and then extended itself to discover water in the motor and the inevitable dismantling of a saturated carburetor.
I can’t adequately explain how inevitable such a progression has come to seem to me over the years. Each occasion of mechanical mishap subtly swelling, almost un-noticeably, until the point is reached of sudden status change and we’re confronted by the serpent-like writhing of a major melodrama. The task of minutes transforming to become an entangled preoccupation of hours.
This time, the surprise problem announced itself with a gush of water pumped rhythmically by a piston out through the space more usually occupied by a spark plug. Apparently, the downpour two nights ago found its way inside the air-filter hose and down into the motor. I almost smiled at the predictability of the development, but maintained sufficient gravity not to interrupt proceedings.
My father has a workshop at the rear of his house allotment. It nestles in beyond the backyard, alongside the vegetable garden, chook shed and a small orchard of plum and pear trees. The mower has been hoisted onto an outdoor trestle so he can see better to dry all the parts.
While he is carefully contemplating extraction of the float valve from the carburetor and cleaning the apparatus with an oily rag, two hens have assumed a posture. They are facing each other, beak to beak, in a frozen tableau – ready for the artist or photographer. There are currently seven hens and my mother is telling me that having them all laying at once is a problem because she and my father can’t eat so many eggs. Each hen is known by the colour of it’s eggs. The small black one lays white eggs with a blue-green hue, that brown lays speckles. The white, of course, lays ordinary pale coloured eggs.
While she is speaking, the first reconstruction of the mower has ended precipitously with a flood of fuel. The carburetor float hasn’t gone back in properly. Father snaps a vicious short curse aimed squarely at the foul mechanism and commences to pull it apart again. As though coordinated, three of the hens have started scratching. Two are working in tandem, half hidden in an excavation that has taken considerable effort over a period of time. A brown one beside me lets fly with a near-liquid jet of good-will towards horticulture before starting to claw dirt backward. One big scratch, then close examination with a beady eye, before a follow-up scratch. The earth is being relocated, three toes at a time.
I now hold the mower tilted to an angle that allows access to its nether regions. The base plate seems to have been put back loose. No problem, do it again, but this time clean all the parts properly. I’ve always found the way my father can logically diagnose the nature of each problem and then the procedure necessary to rectify it a remarkable personal trait, and the limitation of my own role to holding objects in place and passing tools as required no longer troubles me as it did in younger days when I was certain that it was my appointed task to exceed my father in all areas and activities. Being aware of the flow of his processes and taking a small role as occasion merits has become sufficient.
The dog has now joined the hens. They are relatively new to each other but move easily together – sniffing in this corner, scratching in that. A quiet c-a-a-a-w, c-a-a-a-w makes for a gentle background to the afternoon until the sound of the chook-yard gate opening on the other side of the workshop sets all seven hens running in a frenzied unison of expectation that some new green-feed will have been deposited in the yard. A few moments later a more stately return to previous pursuits has begun and the pleasant softness of the day is re-instituted.
At last, the mower is assembled and roaring with good health. Hens and dog, startled, have found more distant areas of the yard to interest them, while my father and I are nodding knowingly at each other about the vagaries of machine engineering and how you just don’t know where the first thing you touch might lead you.
Silence returns and the blue smoke fades. The day has followed unexpected tangents, and been curiously satisfying. It seems mower maintenance can hold meditative rewards, even for the non-mechanical when the afternoon is lazy, the hens c-a-a-a-w and the dog has an interesting notion of a place to explore, while my father and I are each doing the things we do best.
© Frank Prem, 2008