Sunday, June 18, 2017

Throttle Body and the Fix-it Gene


 "What was wrong with the car?" I asked the attendant at the dealer service center.

"It was a bad throttle body," she said.

"A what?"

"Throttle body," she repeated. "It's an electronic device that went bad."

"What's that?” I asked, unwilling to let it go.

"It's a sensor that helps control the airflow to the engine. You know, like carburetors used to do. Do you remember carburetors? New cars are controlled by electronics now. Carburetors are no longer used. The throttle body in your car went bad and we replaced it. It's fine now," she explained, thinking my line of inquiry was related to whether or not the car would work right.

Did I remember carburetors? Hell, yes, I remember carburetors. I nearly started—but caught myself—to tell her about my father tearing apart more than one of those from our old cars. He'd spread newspapers over the kitchen table, promising my mother he'd be done by dinner. He'd bring parts in from the garage that had been soaking in a solvent—probably gasoline; it was the 60s, a time when we didn't know better than to casually handle dangerous substances—into the kitchen, gingerly wipe them clean, then proceed to meticulously rebuild the faulty equipment until it purred like the cat we were never allowed to have. All of us kids knew it was a carburetor and that dad was fixing it.

"Dad's rebuilding a carburetor, stay out of the kitchen," mom would say.

It was a given: at our house, when things broke, dad FIXED them—the washer, the dryer, the light switch, the door latch, an old radio, the carburetors. When we lived in the inner city, he installed deadbolts half way up on our windowsills that allowed the windows to be opened during the night, just enough to let in some air since we didn't have air conditioning, but not opened enough that an intruder could come in through the windows. We all slept soundly.

One wintry night in our cold garage, he and my brother, worked to fix the timing chain—which is not easy—on an old Chevy I had purchased with money from my first real job. I remember it well because it was my task that night to angle the hanging light, as directed, throughout the whole process. It worked like new when they were done. Most impressively, they figured out what the problem was without the use of the ever-present dashboard message or computer analysis.

A minister who read "Popular Mechanics" for inspiration and the Bible for work, dad was the best shirtsleeve mechanic, engineer, and all-round handyman one could have ever wanted living under your roof. He had many shortcomings—fodder for another time perhaps, but his ability to figure out how things worked, and then to fix them if they broke, wasn't one of them. At that, he was a pro.

Over the years, I have come to recognize some of that same fix-it spirit—possibly, a fix-it gene—in myself. It has served me well in my own home and even on the job; and, though I've never rebuilt a carburetor, I'm the one in our house who keeps the computers, internet, and printers running. I recently fixed the lamp in the front room that kept falling apart. It needed a longer double threaded coupler. I took the old part to Lowe's and found the replacement hardware I needed. My husband's suggestion had been to throw it out and get a new lamp. I've hung all the pictures in our house. I've cut, finished, and installed chair rail and baseboard. I didn't know how to get rid of the gap in places where the baseboard didn't flesh up to the wall perfectly. I asked a friend—another trick I learned from dad, ask an expert—who was a painter, and he said, caulk it. I went caulk crazy, creating the perfect fit of molding to the walls. All articles of clothing in the family that need buttons, new zippers, patches, or whatever, come to me. I'm the fixer. Thanks, dad!

Throttle body? What a beautiful term. I did an online search and looked at pictures of throttle bodies. It's a small, simple-looking device. I looked closely at a diagram of where it's usually located in the engine and according to Wikipedia,

"Cars with fuel injection don't need a mechanical device to meter the fuel flow...However, they do still need a throttle to control the airflow into the engine. The simplest way to do this is to remove the carburetor, and bolt on a unit containing a throttle body and fuel injectors instead."

It seems to me this is saying you could convert a carburetor set-up to a fuel injection system. I don't know that for sure, and well, I couldn't do it in any regard, and frankly, why would I? Also, I think they need electronics to regulate them. I'm pretty sure, my dad could've done it had he ever have felt the need to, or even if he'd have just wanted to. I'm certain, he would have been good with computers, too. 

I grew up thinking dad could fix anything, something that feels rare and difficult to do in today’s complicated electronic, gadget-ted world. But, more than once throughout my life, I've been thankful for the fix-it gift. I have no doubt I got it largely from my father, although, my mom was no slacker when it came to fixing things either.

It seems to me that we, as children, whether early in life or later, make decisions, sometimes conscious, sometimes non-conscious, as to which in the catalog of our parent’s traits we will adopt and which we will spend our lives turning from, often only with the help of a therapist. That might be how children from the same family turn out so differently, or why some children from horrific upbringings go on to live happy successful lives; I don’t know. My father could be grumpy, tense, and explosive and I have always known those were traits I did not want to nurture. I had a friend who told me how his father once smashed a guitar on his head because his dad thought he was spending too much time “fooling around with the damned thing.” My friend said he made a decision that he would not be that kind of dad. It’s easy to think about how we want to be different than our parents, not so easy to think about what we want to emulate.

One of the good traits my father possessed was his creative approach to mending the broken things in our home and in our lives—he was fearless, determined, and not afraid to fail. If he did fail, he just kept at it until he succeeded. I doubt I made a conscious decision to adopt that attitude, but I recognize it in myself and would never want to be different. Maybe my father transferred that can-do attitude to me, and for that I am grateful. It feels like a pretty amazing and useful gift to have received. I'm not ready to change a throttle body in my car, but if it ever goes bad again, I'll know what's wrong, and in a passing moment, I’ll wonder if that’s something I could fix myself.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

That Pool

It was surprising how it came back to me when I stepped into it, smelled chlorine, and heard the echo of voices high into the expanse of the community Rec Center. Water Aerobics. My friend had said, "you'll be the youngest person there." And, I was. That was last week, a long time—twenty years, in fact—from when I first came here a month following the miscarriage of my second pregnancy. In the midst of a grief, the likes of which I could have never conceived, I wanted to take swimming lessons. I imagined the pool water washing away my dolorous skin and making me new.
I only remember one momentous thing that happened during those swimming lessons besides learning what can only be described as a lopsided butterfly stroke. I lost an expensive lens out of my prescription swimming goggles. I traversed the lane slowly looking downward, holding the remaining goggle lens to one eye until I saw the other shiny coke-bottle-bottom lens far below on the floor of the pool. I sucked in big gulps of air and after several tries, nailed a less-than-perfect surface dive to the bottom to get it. Maybe it was then that the pain finally subsided, or maybe I am romanticizing. Maybe it just took me a long time to let go. You see, I had a child already, so knew what I had lost. Never mind that everyone says things like that happen for a reason. I had lost a fetus and I despaired. I was determined to push the grief out of my body with every clumsy stroke.

And, just like that, my short, less-than-illustrious swimming career ended. The goggles—with both lenses—are still safe at the bottom of a drawer. Then, out of nowhere, I experienced a momentary reemergence of that grief when I stepped back into that pool for water aerobics with a group of women who  assured me it was ok if I couldn't get all the steps right.

What am I grieving for now with every exaggerated water-resisted, salsa step?  My beautiful daughter just got married, but I’m not sad about that. I am happy for her. My husband and I have already easily slipped into emptynester-hood. In fact,  the joke is that when we took our daughter to get her driver's license at sixteen, it felt like she got into her car and drove away from us forever. That is as it should be.
I want to say that a miscarriage is part of some divine…I can't use the word plan, I just can't...the word process is better, I think. But I won't give up the word divine, meaning,  of a god, because it—the process whereby a fertilized egg is spontaneously aborted from a body seems almost—though I don't believe in these kinds of things—godly. In reality, something was not—or maybe it was—working perfectly, as designed with the fetus, or with me, or with our time together; so, we said our farewells. I used to picture microscopic-sized Brazilian tree frog-like finger tips clinging to the wall of my uterus that one by one let go. At first, I wanted to know what had gone wrong. Over time, it didn’t matter. I never became pregnant again.
This new dip into that pool is about another body—my own—that seems also to be slipping from my grasp no matter how hard I try to hold on to it. I feel my fingers trying to cling to…to what exactly? time? quality of life? to life itself?  That's why after more than twenty years, I walked back into the pool at the neighborhood Rec Center.  I have added water aerobics to my cache, or rather to my bag of tricks, to try to keep my body as strong as possible as I enter the final leg of my journey. I do what I can: track my daily steps with a monitor,  practice yoga several times a week, workout with free-weights and gym equipment. And, now I go to water aerobics with my new friends. When I stepped out of the pool—that pool—last week, I felt really good and really happy—different than I had twenty years ago. My new friends made me promise to come back. For a few minutes, I forgot that water aerobics was about my new constant struggle to cling tight to a stronghold.
I pick up my sister in the mornings to drive her to the hospital for radiation treatments for lung cancer. Before I get to her house, I go through McDonald's and get her a large Coke with extra ice. I bring her homemade soup and new hats to cover her bald head. "Thanks," she always says, in her raspy, radiation-pinched voice. The Coke feels good on her throat. We always get back to how lucky she is that it was caught early, that she has only one more week of radiation left, that the whole thing will be over in a few months with only two more rounds of Chemo. After that, it's a waiting game.

Prior to the recent daily radiation trips, my sister and I hadn't seen each other more often than a couple of times a year for the past several years. We used to share a room when we were kids. We're like life-long friends who get together every once in a while and swear that we must be sisters because there is a strong bond. We’re the epitome of what people mean when they say that. Perhaps, more accurately,  we are sisters who feel close enough to be friends. After just the first trip to the hospital a couple of weeks ago, we were revealing things one would only tell a close friend or a sister—the small irksome thing someone did that day, adult children who aren't attentive enough, bodies that ache in the mornings and no longer work as well as they once did—all the small things that would otherwise go unspoken.

"I've been thinking about mom, lately." I say.

"What are you thinking about exactly?" she pushes.

"I've been thinking about how inwardly critical I was of her at the end; how I always felt she had simply given in to her stroke and refused to try harder to get better and to regain strength. I am beginning to see what kind of determination it takes to keep moving. I was critical of her and I regret that." This is something I've never said aloud.

"It's ok," she says. And when I hear her say that, I feel better. She says nothing more. It's becoming hard for her to talk.

I tell her about the water aerobics, but I don't mention how being in that pool makes me think about when I had a miscarriage. It was so long ago anyway.

"Would you mind if we stop at the grocery on the way home so I can pick up a few things?" she asks.
"No, I don't mind," I say. "I have all the time in the world." And, as irrational as that statement sounds, for a moment,  I feel as if I really do.


© 2015 Grace Curtis

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Family That Rolls Coins Together. . . Gets a New Big Screen TV Together

One Thankgiving Day in the late 90s, we cut open the blue crayon bank and rolled the coins. I found these photos today and thought I'd share. It took us nearly all day to roll what turned out to be around $1,700. We bought a big, clunky (no flat screens back then) TV. Now its too big and works too well to justify getting rid of it. We hardly ever watch it anyway, now that the baby bird is grown up and lives far away. It's just a fun family memory. Never underestimate the small things. . . like change. 

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Keeping the Blog Alive

Hi everyone, I am not shutting this blog down, at least not now; but, I am on hiatus from posting to it. I have been traveling much and continuing to work at the job I retired from a while back. Just setting different priorities for now. I feel so fortunate and blessed to have such a full and rich life.

I am focusing my current efforts on my poetry blog at Please join me there for a while, at least until I re-energize this site.

Love and Hugs,

Grace Curtis

Monday, February 6, 2012

Adanna Literary Journal: A Collection of Contemporary Love Poems

So excited to be reading at this event on April 8, 7 pm at the College of St. Elizabeth, in Morristown, NJ.

Adanna Literary Journal: A Collection of Contemporary Love Poems:


Founder & Editor, christine redman-waldeyer

assistant editor, david crews


Monday, January 23, 2012

Glassblowers at the Museum of Glass in Tahoma, Washington
 from The Seconds--Claude Laurent, Glassblower, 1850

by Linda Bierds

And thinking of seconds--first time, of course, then
the hapless devoted to step from behind
with their handkerchiefs and swords, ready to give shape
to another's passion, as a body gives shape to a soul.

from one of my favorite books of poetry, The Seconds.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Having a 25 year old child -- it's not possible, is it?

This year, our daughter, Sam, turns 25. I have to keep reminding myself that I am old enough to have a child that age, although I could actually have one much older, but that’s another story.

For good reason, I have not shared much with my daughter about the fact that I spent my entire 25th year living onboard a sailboat and actually sailing through the Caribbean during some of that year. My parents could only communicate with me by sending letters to General Delivery Key West, Miami, Nassau, San Juan. . .you get the picture. (You can read my journal entries, presented in weekly installments, in reverse chronological order on my Tumbler site, if you are so inclined. Click on the tag, Ship’s Log to get to all of them). Except for one raging storm that lasted a few days, during which I had to use seasickness suppositories to keep from becoming too dehydrated since I couldn’t keep anything down, it is actually pretty tame stuff. What I am sure was not “tame”, was the angst I caused my parents and family, wondering where I was and what I was doing, or even if I was still alive. I can’t imagine how I would feel if our daughter suddenly left the country and I was not able to get in touch with her easily. Times are different now. I'm not just saying that because I am old (older). When I finally flew home to Ohio, the entire family—orchestrated by my mother, I’m sure—was at the airport to greet me. It was a clear message to me that I was loved and missed. Oh, and by the way, I wouldn’t trade that year for anything.

What brought this to mind was an article that ran in the Dayton Daily News yesterday written by Dayton writer, Sharon Short. It made me think of being a young adult myself, and. . . of having my own young adult who, like Sharon’s daughter, occasionally worries about the parentals! You can read Sharon’s delightful article at the Dayton Daily News Site.