The Dipstick

Cindy ArpOur Town Outdoors

One Christmas morning a few years back, after all the presents had been opened, husband Dan’s brother-in-law, Henry, went to the tree and pulled out a hidden gift.

“Look, Dan,” he said, “here’s a package for you.” Dan opened the gift and found the metal rod used to determine the oil level in one’s car – in other words, a dipstick.

Caught between puzzlement and gratitude, Dan turned to Henry who laughed and said, “Well, I was in the farm store the other day, looking for a part for my tractor, and they were giving dipsticks away. I got one for you.”

It was a typical frugal, funny Henry gift.

Dan kept the dipstick and around Thanksgiving the following year, took it out to his workshop and created a Henry Family Coat of Arms. The ball was now in Henry’s court.

The year after that, with the 2000 presidential election challenge recently in the news, the dipstick became a “Hanging Chad.” During that election the state of Florida’s election ballots used a punch system. Some of the punched choices did not completely go through, causing a “chad.” The dipstick chad was a roll of toilet paper with one sheet partially torn off.

Our turn again and with our art-major son home for the holidays, the dipstick became a hula dancer, complete with swaying hips. Through the years the dipstick was, among other things, a submarine snorkel, a weathervane and a clothes dryer.

As lovely as the thoughtful Christmas gifts we received were, the dipstick was the thing to which we all looked forward. What was the other side going to do this year? More importantly, what were we going to do to top that the following year? The dipstick was something small but required thought, creativity and an understanding of the recipient.

When I was a new member of Dan’s family, I developed a nasty cold. Dan and I were living in his family’s uninsulated summer cabin, driving 68 round-trip miles every day to attend our college classes. I was juggling studying while learning how to cook and keep house.

One day a card addressed to me arrived. It was one of those pretty, old-fashioned, Helen Stiner Rice cards; heartfelt poetry accompanied by a lovely picture. Inside the card was a note from Dan’s mom telling me that the card traveled around the family, sent to whomever needed it most until that person saw another person who needed it more. This small thing made me feel loved, feel better.

The same thing in a different form happened the third week of my first-year teaching school. I had laryngitis and felt terrible but soldiered my way through PTA Open House and my first mid-term report cards. One morning a badge appeared in my mailbox. There was a sun on it and the words, “Let the Sunshine In.” The badge traveled among the staff, passed on to whomever needed it the most.

It was an “I see you” moment, an “You are not alone” moment. It was a small thing but just what I needed.

Small things feel as lovely as an expensive cashmere sweater, as funny as an expensive comedy club, as philosophical as a discussion with the Dali Lama. The cashmere sweater will grow old, the jokes you heard in the comedy club will fade away, but you will always remember those small, important things.

May your upcoming new year be blessed with your brand of dipsticks, badges and greeting cards; may your year be filled with small things you won’t forget, small things that aren’t really small at all.

Cindy Arp, teacher/librarian, retired from Knox County Schools. She and husband Dan live in Heiskell.


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