by Rob Brinkley
I think of Dad and I smell Windex. He had a funny — in every sense of the word — ritual that used to drive the rest of the family berserk. There we'd be, Mom, me and my brother, piled in the car and ready to go, probably already late for wherever we were headed. But where's Dad? We'd wait. We'd wait. We'd wait some more. Finally, he'd appear, on the driveway, with a spray bottle of bright-blue window cleaner in one hand and a roll of paper towels in the other. Sffft. Sffft. Onto the windshield the Windex would go. Wipe. Wipe. Wipe some more. Another spritz. He'd missed a spot. Dad could not drive until that windshield was sparkling.
I unquestionably inherited my love for cars — and owning clean, well-shined cars — from him. He'd spend hours on a weekend washing and waxing his prides and joys. He had many, and they were almost always Cadillacs. (In the Midwest, a Cadillac meant you had made it.) Dad had a cabinet in our garage jammed with polishes, creams and cloths. When a toothbrush had had its day in the bathroom, he'd promote it to car-cleaning duty. (Nothing gets between the buttons of a car radio any better.) Dad's clean Cadillacs, I think, were his way of controlling what he could. Someone might've ticked him off — Dad was high-strung — or one of his crazy business ideas might've gone nowhere again — Dad was a dreamer — but when he set sail in a shiny Sedan de Ville, he was King of the World.
Dad thought success meant money and all the symbols that you had some. I've learned that he was wrong — and that he was his own worst enemy. He was a genius mechanical engineer. He could solve any logistics problem. He was a quiet thinker. But he was also the life of the party, a jokester who never met a stranger. He'd talk your ears off. He'd stop to help anyone with anything, anytime. He was hard on himself, though, up against some kinds of demons never discussed. He was bottled up. He was ebullient. He was, as they say, a character. He died 12 years ago from — no surprise — a heart attack. His latest Cadillac, a big, navy blue one, had sputtered to a halt on a country road. He stomped to a McDonald's for help, shouted something and fell to the floor.
I think about Dad the most when I am waxing one of my cars. I've got some prides and joys. (Dad wouldn't necessarily be thrilled that they're all foreign-built.) I spend hours on the weekends washing them, drying them, detailing them. Toothbrushes that once polished my pearly whites now whisk the last bits of dried wax from around the door handles. My radio buttons are the cleanest in town. But I'm never more like Dad than when I get to the Windex part. I spritz. I wipe. I spritz some more. I catch myself doing it just like he did. Sometimes I cry. Most often I smile. Look at that windshield sparkle.
ROB BRINKLEY is a writer and editor based in Dallas. He has written for Esquire, Elle Decor, Architectural Digest, Veranda, Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman. He was the editor-in-chief of FD, the style magazine of The Dallas Morning News.