‘So. When did you last get your oil changed?”
A friend’s father drives him crazy with that question. It’s repeated as many times as he visits, and is predictably followed by a discussion of the merits of more frequent (or less frequent) changes, the costs of new synthetics, and whether dealers rip you off or if 10-minute places are inadequate. There will be debate about changing it himself, and the effect of the coming weather – summer or winter – on the oil choice.
His mother will ask how work is, she’ll put way too many leftovers by the front door and tell him he doesn’t come by often enough. She’ll tell him what his siblings and their children are doing, remind him of upcoming birthdays and tell him he should call his brothers more often.
His father will ask what year his car is, again, and what the owner’s manual recommends for oil changes. A conversation will ensue around those recommendations, his dad spending considerable time on the mileage versus time interval. His dad will note the dealer tells him one thing and the manual tells him another. My friend will nod.
His mother will pull out some pictures of the grandkids and admonish him for not realizing how fast they’re growing up. He will assure her he sees them and continues to give cash gifts because he indeed can’t believe how fast they’re growing up and cash is always the right size.
His father will ask how much an oil change is on the new car, and remind him to get the oil changed regularly, because that is the lifeblood of a car. They will both think silently, yet at the same time, about when another sibling, in the folly of youth, destroyed another car ignoring just this wisdom. Dad will shake his head sadly, wondering why his kids don’t listen to him more often.
Mom will ask him if he likes his job, the job he’s had for nearly 15 years. He will reply that he does and she will ask again exactly what it is he does. He will start to explain, then ask to see more pictures of the kids.
His father will tell him about the idiot he met who thought you needn’t change the filter when you changed the oil. They will agree this is not smart. This will start a discussion on filters that will closely follow the lines of the discussion on oil.
His mother will remind him of upcoming holidays and poke at him until he promises to be there for everything. She will add in some extra ones, he is sure of it, but agrees anyway. She asks what he’s been eating, and then gets up to put yet more leftovers by the front door. He says thank you, wondering what he will do with half a dozen Tupperware containers of food, enough to feed five people.
The conversation will shift to his last car, and his father will note that it lasted as long as it did because his son got the oil changed properly. He will ask if it was still running when he let it go, and then nod appreciatively when he hears it was. There is nothing worse than a generation of kids who don’t know how to take care of anything. His son is not like this, and it’s good to know the frequent talks about oil changes are not falling on deaf ears.
He will stand up to go and his mother will tell him he hasn’t stayed long enough. He will remind her he has an early start the next day and that he will be back in a couple of weeks. She will tell him he is too stubborn and then she will put more food by the door.
He will pull on his shoes and survey the stockpile of food piled surrounding them. Juggling the containers, he will smile as his mother embraces both him and the packages and call out a goodbye to his father. Back outside, he will start the car that receives the most regular oil changes in history, and smile to himself about the fact he and his father never really talk about much.
He will tell me about the visit, usually as he is dropping off half of the leftovers for my sons. I will laugh and remind him that food is love, and then ask if his father also told him he loved him. He will look at me quizzically and say, no, he just asked when I’d gotten my oil changed.
And then I will smile, knowing that is exactly what his father was telling him.