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Mack Williams: Windshield wipe

Windshield Wipe

Somewhere in my early teens I remember hearing something to the effect that each day of our lives is recorded somewhere in our brains ( Hercule Poirot:  “Ze little grey cells”).

Sometimes, a word, sight, or sound provides a “memorable” hint, pulling out a day or instant of time from that cerebellar diary.

Just the other day at the science museum where I work, we were getting ready to begin another season of our netted butterfly garden. The butterfly chrysalis boxes were repainted and the special cabinet in which they are secured was being cleaned by friend and fellow employee, Brian Buchanan.

The cabinet has glass doors, and Brian was spraying the glass with a cleaning solution and wiping it down with blue shop towels. When I looked over, Brian was wiping the inside of the glass, his hand facing me. Due to the fluorescent lighting within the cabinet, Brian’s back-lit hand appeared silhouetted, its image showing through his wet cleaning towel.

At that instant, it all came back! (actually, it had never left, but only buried, like those recurring messages of the Magic 8 Ball).

It  was the 1950s, and I was sitting in the front passenger seat of my father’s old black Studebaker, looking the same both coming and going (not me, the Studebaker). I was gazing at the windshield above me where a silhouetted hand surrounded by a blue paper towel (shop towel) was cleaning the old (not so old then) Studebaker’s windshield after a little glass cleaner had been sprayed.

This was, of course, during that time when a uniformed gentleman at the service station would see to the windshield after having seen to the gas, oil and water. At some point, the gas station attendant’s uniform was relegated to the history bin (but possibly not so in Germany, where I read that many jobs, both private and public have their own particular uniform, and not just the black polo with beige pants).

On many occasions of riding with my father I saw how windshield cleaning looked like “from the inside.” It was kind of like something magical, this great hand appearing out of the blue (from my front-seat vantage point) with a blue paper towel to make the “sky” clear-blue again.

This was about the same time I was surely first exposed to the idea of another kind of vision being obstructed by eye-stuck logs and motes (also “specks”) at Saint Paul’s Lutheran Church, namely, the need for the removal of such “obstructions” preached about by Pastor L.C. Bumgarner, then Pastor William Ridenhour, and finally (when I was old enough for the lesson to “take”) from Pastor Floyd W. Bost.

My father’s windshield, like the lenses of my eyes, was curved, and during those combined stops at the service station, I must have seen hundreds to maybe thousands of “motes” (some winged and splattered) removed from that great “lens “overlying my own. The achieved effect was to make the blue sky clearer and the clouds (whether white, gray, or black) less spotted. A nighttime cleaning might remove spotty “constellations” of star-obstructing specks.

Of course, I had some personal “motes and logs” of my own, but none of them had noticeably become stuck to the windshield of my father’s old Studebaker.

Each time that “hand from the sky” seemed to wipe the heavens clean, it seemed to clear my eyes too, giving me a good feeling, not unlike that feeling experienced by people during spring cleaning. This suddenly-appearing, skyward hand predated the time of potato chips or burnt cheese sandwiches on TV bearing sacred likenesses, or the sacred-face bearing, hand-shaped cloud pictures that people post on Facebook.

Back in the present, the glass of our just-cleaned butterfly cabinet had become as “mote-less” and crystalline as the just-cleaned windshield of my father’s old Studebaker on one of its multiple service-station stops.

Brian said, smiling:”That looks a lot better!” And I said, smiling:” It sure does!”

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