After he deposited my mother back at work he went immediately to the back porch, retrieved the hand clippers from the windowsill and marched to the front lawn. On his knees he carefully cut the grass that the lawn mower didn’t reach along the curb. As he crawled along he finally came even with the front of the car. He stood up. Filthy Italian expletives flew out under his mustache like startled bats. Then he returned the clippers to their windowsill parking spot, forgetting that he had only finished half the trimming job he had started.
Sitting out his penance on the top step of the porch he had a perfect view of the incised hood as well as a man standing next to the fender, also surveying the hood. This mystery man was as tall and swarthy as my father but wore a long sleeve flannel shirt, boots and a small hoop in both ears. His unseasonable dress should have alerted my dad that something was odd about this man but the visitor in our front yard was someone to talk to until my mother got off work.
For $50 this wanderer promised to return in the morning with some tools and in no time he would have that dent pulled out. My father was skeptical and my mother was too tired to care. From their conversation my father also knew that he was a gypsy just passing through and could use the money. A deal was a deal. Next day my friends and I watched from the porch, while my dad stood at the window intent on the spectacle in the street, a sweaty $50 bill wadded in his palm.
The man brought along a giant rubber mallet, a can of Simonize and an old rag that I recognized as a sleeveless undershirt. All morning he paced, pounded, tapped, wiped and stopped periodically to wipe the sweat from his face with the undershirt. Nothing changed. While we were in the kitchen making sandwiches, we missed seeing him climb on the hood. When we returned he was jumping up and down like the car was a little round trampoline. Finally he gave up, climbed down and slowly met my father at the front door.
I wish I could say that benevolence won out over anger but my father was driven by even more humiliation than the exhausted would-be car repairman. Whenever I see a rebuilt Falcon or a Gypsy, for that matter, I can recall in perfect detail the defeated posture of a retreating man carrying a mallet down Birch Street in the summer of 1960.