One day about a week or so ago, my lady friend called. “I need to borrow your pickup.” She said. “I’m going to Wal-Mart to buy a tree and it won’t fit in my car.”

I wondered why a woman her age would be buying a tree. Then, I gave it some thought. I decided that trees these days are all being planted mostly by middle-aged and elderly people. Young folks have little interest in trees unless they drive into one.

I decided to accompany her to get the tree as she usually gives me some good driving tips. Driving tips are always appreciated and when she drives, I always give her a few. Since it was to be her tree, I allowed her to drive.

“Watch it,” I told her as we exited my driveway. “Don’t pull out in front of that car. They must be doing 80 and drunk besides.”

“Don’t tell me how to drive. That driver is not drunk. Everybody in Brownwood drives like that.”

After getting the tree loaded, we found that my pickup wouldn’t start. A nice fellow from the automotive section brought a battery and jumper cables in a shopping cart. It still wouldn’t start. Then another Wal-Mart employee appeared in a pickup to jump it off. The starter refused to budge.

Then I remembered that about 10 years ago, the pickup manufacturers started making starters in direct proportion to the size of the engine. A big engine called for a little starter. By doing this, they could predict, almost to the day, when the starter would fail and stock their warehouses with starters to get ready for the rush.

I remembered the last time it happened to me and I recalled that a sharp lick on the side of the starter would make it work. The nice man from Wal-Mart crawled under the pickup and hit the starter. It worked, allowing us to drive back and unload the tree.

I took the pickup home, thinking I could hit it a lick the next day and start it. It was a no go. I had to call a wrecker to take it to a garage. I found that the price of starters had doubled from around a hundred dollars to two hundred. This, along with the wrecker charge knocked a big hole in my Sociable Security check.

Some 20 years ago, my son Ken was attending school in Waco. He owned an old Mustang. The planned obsolescence of all the parts on that Mustang seemed to be coming due in the same week.

One day, it was the starter. I bought a starter for the bargain price of $40 which was as big as a stovepipe and weighed about 40 pounds. I took off to Waco before dawn on a cold November morning to replace the starter on that Mustang.

About two miles out of Goldthwaite, I located the only highway patrolman in Texas who was awake. It seems that he had been to his ranch to feed his cows. He gave me a $40 ticket, thereby increasing the price of the starter to $80.

I spent most of that cold day putting that starter on with my legs sticking out from under that Mustang where most of the students seemed to want to park. A Mustang, as anybody knows who has ever been under one, sits awful close to the ground but I knew my way around, having been under there before.

Nobody was happier on graduation day than me.

Well, maybe he was.

Harry Marlin’s column is featured every Tuesday on the Brownwood Bulletin’s Viewpoint page. E-mail him at