Magnetos & Compass Points

At my brother's garage I see a circular piece of what I assume to be cast iron or steel with bent pieces of metal radiating out from a central core. Next to it is a magnetic compass he bought at a camping store. The woman at the register said, "you know, there's an app on your phone that's easier and probably more accurate than this thing." My brother said it wasn't for finding his way. It's to help him work on one of his Model-T Fords. The bent pieces radiating from the core are magnets each with opposite polarity from the ones next to it. To know what's what, he uses the compass. I picked up the compass and watched the needle swing north to south as I moved from one magnet to the next. I smiled and kept moving back and forth around that circle, the act of it delighting and pulling me.

We were at my brother's garage because my 2010 Prius had gone 6,500 miles since I had bought it and I've no idea when it last had the oil changed. Synthetic oil lasts 10,000 miles but I hate leaving things up to chance and don't at all trust that the dealer (ugh, the dealer) changed the oil when I bought it. At 6,500 miles, it was close to time and now I get to do things right.

I could have taken it to an oil change place or, God forbid, the dealer, but I dislike paying upwards of ninety dollars for an oil change when my brother has a full-service garage complete with a lift. We bought five quarts of synthetic and a filter on sale for thirty-three dollars and drove to his garage, talking about this and that as we tend to do.

Driving the car onto the lift, figuring out where the filter might be and how to remove it, lifting the car and draining the oil, all these things were tactile, physical, literally within reach and we did them together. The oil warmed and stained my hands. The filter cover had to be persuaded with a hammer and punch worked carefully so as to loosen but not damage the thing. We stood beneath the car, a lead-lamp on a cord lighting the way for our failing eyes, fetching tools for one another, figuring things out. We kept talking too.

My father came up in the conversation often, as he does in the garage he loved and where his cars still reside. Banging with a hammer sounded like him. The oil smelled like him. The place is inhabited by his friendly, invisible, silent ghost. And there were my brother and me, imitations of the old man, newer models working with his tools and in his ways.

After we lowered the lift, refilled the oil, ran the engine, and checked the levels, my brother wanted to move cars around to line up his Model-T Fords and have access to the cars he was likely to drive over the next few weeks. We moved cars out of the garage, rolled the un-engined frame of a Model-T by pushing it around, and parked things where he wanted them to go. The whole thing was an exercise in joy, the simple kind that most people call contentment but which was, for me, too filled with wonder to leave with such a bland name. Afterward we stood talking and admiring the garage, the cars, the work of a garage.

As we made to leave, I took another look at the magnets and the compass. I touched a magnet as if to discern the direction of its pull. No such luck, but it exerted a whole other kind of pull on me, into the past, sure, but also forward, leading me where I'm meant to go. At least that's exactly how it felt.