Under the Hood

Searching out your life memories with a "checkup from the neck up"

I swear I found the key to the universe in the engine of an old parked car. Bruce Springsteen from "Growin' Up"

car-engine-under-the-hoodMechanic under the hood of a car engine


My sister, Leslie, found this picture of me when I was in Kansas City for my father's funeral in January of 2012. It is dated February of 1958. That would put my age at two years and a couple of months.

I am holding my beloved "Ted Bear" that I dragged everywhere. As you can see, I am standing under the hood of our family car, one of those big old Buicks, a big, solid car.

I have never been very good at working on cars. But I certainly admire those who have the knack. My brother, Doug, is one. He’s tinkered a lot and even restored a couple of sports cars, one being a replica of KITT, the 1982 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am from the television program, “Knight Rider.” I think he even did some kind of tech to get the car to “talk.”

Paul, another friend of mine, is not only handy with a wrench and knowledgeable about cars – he actually likes working on them. Imagine that, I always look at it as a chore! At any rate, it made me feel less guilty when he offered to do some repairs that normally would be cost prohibitive at the auto shop. Sure, I paid for the parts and gave him something for his time, but nothing like the fees I’d incur at the neighborhood mechanic.

There are times and jobs when I go to an auto mechanic and it is good to find one you can trust. But the bonus of getting together with a friend or family member to spend some time under the hood of your ride can create important memories. Even those you laugh at now, but caused a lot of grief at the time, like breaking a bolt or a belt.

What's under "your" hood?

The metaphor of standing under the hood got me thinking. What is "under the hood", i.e. inside our heads? We all have things that "drive" us. Our personal "horsepower" helps us accomplish goals and pursue dreams. As I gaze down the tunnel of time I can't help but wonder about this young Tom. Surely I am full of wonder, like any two year old boy.

When my grandson was two he was a lot of fun, curious and sometimes a challenge. I suppose that’s typical for little kids. Years ago my wife watched both of our grandchildren during the work day and she would tell me they both definitely knew what they wanted. Hanging out with little ones can keep you young at heart and on your toes.

Learn about yourself when you share your story

One of the ways to learn more about ourselves and personal history is to share it with others. Telling your children or grandchildren about the times when you grew up can be a great bonding experience. And maybe you will even pass along some good life lessons.

What do you want out of life? How have the years and experiences shaped you? Have you started writing any of it down? Get "under the hood" of your life experiences. 

Working with a good personal historian can be like a trusted mechanic. We can analyze your life experiences with professional detachment while being empathetic and encouraging. We can point out where you might need a topic checkup, such as playing sports (“What happened when your friends picked teams? Did you get picked early or last?”). Or perhaps when reminiscing about your school days (“Did you always do your homework, or did you procrastinate until the very end?”).

Personal Historians can help you fine tune your memories. Your life story matters. Go for a "drive" down the highways and byways of your life and let a personal historian be your navigator.