A Lovable Gruff

Photo Credit: Pixabay/Ryan McGuire

By Jo Mooy

We casually meet many people on our journey. Most come and go, but some are different—leaving an imprint on our path—and a reason to honor their memories.

He was thin and lanky. His hair may have been black in his youth. It was hard to tell. When I met him, it was a nondescript color streaked with gray. He was never clean-shaven. The stubble of a beard usually looked like he attempted to shave but never quite finished the job. Sometimes he wore cutoff jeans, exposing hairy legs and knobby knees. Most times he was in a pair of grease-stained khaki pants and short-sleeved shirts that never met an iron.

His name was Gene. He owned a small car repair shop that belied the pretentious four-word name hand-painted over the door. Like him, the sign had seen better days. When answering the phone he simply said, “automotive” ignoring the other three words and giving power to the one word that summarized his work. The hours under the sign said 8:30 – 5:00 M-F. Apparently that was just a suggestion because some days he’d arrive at 10 and leave by 3:00.

The shop was tucked behind a large appliance store facing a major roadway. You had to know it was there or you’d never see it from the road. The shop was an extension of his persona. He worked behind an old desk as weathered with dents as he was. The only light came in from the front door hanging on two of three hinges. There were no chairs for customers to sit on, though there was a supply of five-year-old “girly magazines” scattered about. There was a three-legged sofa, the fourth propped up with a cinder block, in an opening behind the desk. The sofa had a blanket on it, which in hindsight may have been where he slept. If he did, it explained the scraggly beard and crumpled shirts.

The first rule of business ownership is to be courteous and welcoming to your customers. Not Gene. A customer walking in would begin a long dissertation about what was wrong with his car and what he wanted Gene to fix. Gene’s standard reply was, “Alright, just leave it. I’ll call you.” Should the customer dare to call, he’d hear, “Did I tell you to call me? No! I said I’d call you when it’s ready.” Another customer might catch him on an “off day.” If Gene didn’t like the vibe he was getting, he’d look at the guy and say, “Get out.” If the customer protested he’d yell louder, “Get out.”

Gene’s “automotive” kept our cars running inexpensively and in good condition. For 14 years his tirades never touched us. He always greeted us with a big smile and the words, “Hi Guys!” When telling him about the car issue, he came outside, looked under the hood, talked nicely and said, “Don’t worry, guys. I’ll take care of it.” He graciously never hung up if we called him to check on the status of a repair. I often wondered if he was different with us because we were women. I never asked.

A week ago I drove past the shop. It was closed. No cars were in the lot awaiting repairs. Even the sign was gone. Something was not right, so I called his cell. Verizon said the number was no longer in service. I searched the name of the shop. A legal notice said it had closed. Concern mounting, I Googled his full name. A headline from a year ago appeared on the computer screen. It read “Bradenton Man Dies in Motorcycle Accident.” Tears fell.

The short 85-five word article said he was 65. It described his last motorcycle ride ending with: “He was not wearing a helmet.” (Gene didn’t own a helmet.) I looked for an obituary. There wasn’t one for him, but there had been one for his 85-year-old mother who died twelve years earlier. I searched for a memorial service. There wasn’t one of those either. He antagonized so many customers with his gruff ways. I wondered if that’s why there wasn’t one?

When the tears eased, I knew Gene needed to be remembered. We did our own memorial for Gene, though he’d been gone a year. We lit candles and incense and placed his name on the altar. “It’s us guys,” we told him, certain he would know who we were. We told “Gene stories” laughing at the memory of the well-dressed couple from North Carolina who had arrived at 8:30 a.m. to rent a U-Haul. They were appalled that Gene had not arrived by opening time. They asked us, “What kind of business does he run?” If they only knew!

We remembered Gene’s many kindnesses. It was sad to realize we wouldn’t be buying him a case of “long-neck” Budweisers this year for Christmas. We prayed for him to be at ease and at peace. This lovable gruff man who kept our cars running, always smiled when we walked in, and gave us a hug when we left him, would not go off into the deep night alone. Even if we were a year late.

There are many people we casually meet on the journey. Most come and go. Meeting Gene was different. He was the casual one who became a friend. He touched us with a gentleness he seldom showed to others. The grace he kept under wraps he bestowed upon us easily. When we paid him in cash, his eyes twinkled, and his grin was punctuated with “Alright, guys!” To the surprise of everyone crowded into the shop, he always gave us a goodbye hug.

The old oak tree that shaded so many cars now stands alone in the empty “automotive” parking lot. Gene is gone. The shop has closed. But we remember who he was. He was a character. He was unkempt. He was a great mechanic. We love all that he was. In that love Gene will always be treasured.

Jo Mooy has studied with many spiritual traditions over the past 40 years. The wide diversity of this training allows her to develop spiritual seminars and retreats that explore inspirational concepts, give purpose and guidance to students, and present esoteric teachings in an understandable manner. Along with Patricia Cockerill, she has guided the Women’s Meditation Circle since January 2006 where it has been honored for five years in a row as the “Favorite Meditation” group in Sarasota, FL, by Natural Awakenings Magazine. Teaching and using Sound as a retreat healing practice, Jo was certified as a Sound Healer through Jonathan Goldman’s Sound Healing Association. She writes and publishes a monthly internationally distributed e-newsletter called Spiritual Connections and is a staff writer for Spirit of Maat magazine in Sedona. For more information go to http://www.starsoundings.com or email jomooy@gmail.com.

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