On an off-road vehicle, the dirt and grime would have been impressive; on a two-door sedan it was embarrassing, and washing the car was at the top of my Saturday to-do list. I came up from the basement with a bucket and sponge, glanced toward the driveway and stopped in my tracks.

WASH ME!!

It was finger-printed in two-foot tall letters, covering the side of the car from bumper to bumper.

And the artist was about to add another exclamation point.

I pushed the screen door open with a bang and stomped down the back steps.

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“Dude! What are you doing?”

He was about 10 years old, and I recognized him as one of the kids from down the street. He pulled his finger off the side of the car like he’d just touched something hot and froze in that “caught in the act” way you do when your mom finds you with your hand in the cookie jar.

I circled the car like I did when I first saw it on the dealer’s lot. Today, it was covered with pleas to “wash me,” smiley faces, squiggles, handprints and something that was either a robot or a giraffe.

It was a rolling mural, a combination of Picasso, Andy Warhol and … um …

“Dude, what’s your name?”

“Kevin,” he said softly.

“Kevin, this is my CAR!” My voice cracked with anger, and I took a deep breath.

“What if you scratched the finish?” I asked when I discovered a drawing that was either a monster truck or a turtle.

If he’d been belligerent I might have gone on a rant. But Kevin genuinely seemed like he was about to cry.

“I’ll tell you what,” I said. “I was just going to wash the car. Why don’t you help me?”

“Ummmm …”

“C’mon,” I said. “Fifteen minutes. You owe me that.”

Fifteen minutes later the car was spotless, and I was relieved that none of the graffiti had been etched into the finish.

“You want a Popsicle?” I asked. I’m a firm believer in the friendship-building qualities of Popsicles.

Congress needs more Popsicles.

“Are you going to tell my dad?” Kevin asked while we ate.

“No,” I said, “but I think you should.”

An angry knock on the door came 20 minutes later.

I’d never seen him before, but there was no mistaking who he was – Kevin would look just like him in 25 years.

Ten-year old Kevin was staring at the sidewalk, and his dad was not happy: “I understand you had Kevin wash your car.”

“We washed it together,” I said, fully expecting to get chewed out for putting his son to work. “Did he tell you why?”

“He did.” Then: “Kevin, what did you want to say?”

The boy didn’t look up from the sidewalk: “Sorry.”

“Kevin is going to be here every Saturday for the rest of the month to wash your car,” dad said. “And from now on …”

Here it comes, I thought.

“… let him wash it himself.”

Father and son turned and marched toward home.

I’m going to need to get more Popsicles.

Dan Conradt, a lifelong Mower County resident, lives in Austin with his wife, Carla Johnson.