Jim Kenyon: The Mystery of the CCBA Wiper Swiper

Donnie Swett can fix just about anything. At the CCBA’s Witherell Recreation Center in downtown Lebanon, where he’s been the maintenance director for 20 years, he repairs everything from treadmills and swimming pool pumps to washers and dryers.

So it was only natural for Rick Dickson, the Witherell Center’s fitness coordinator, to seek out Swett’s help with a minor repair (And when I say minor, I mean, minor) on a co-worker’s car.

A couple of days before Memorial Day weekend, Dickson was chatting with Jennifer Bowen, a part-time fitness instructor at the Witherell Center. Dickson sensed that Bowen was feeling a bit overwhelmed by life. Bowen is a single mom with three young children who works two jobs.

Need I say more?

Dickson inquired if there was something he could do to lessen her stress a bit. “Do you know how to change windshield wiper blades?” Bowen asked.

The weather forecast was calling for torrential downpours throughout the weekend. And the rubber wiper blades on her minivan were in tatters. (As someone who once tried to remove the radiator cap on his Chevy Chevette with a screwdriver, I fully understand Bowen’s trepidation over tackling any car project beyond putting gas in the tank.)

The morning after their talk, Dickson picked up a pair of new wiper blades at an automotive supply store. Outside the Witherell Center, he came across Swett, who was about to start lawn work.

Swett immediately offered his help. “Wiper blades can be tricky,” he told me later, confirming my belief that anything mechanical should be treated like poison ivy.

Swett mentioned to Dickson that Bowen must already be at work because he had spotted her Toyota minivan in the parking lot. While Dickson headed inside to find Bowen — they would need her car keys to test the new wipers once installed — Swett got started with the repair. He lifted the metal arms of both wipers away from windshield. Next, he pulled off the old blades, which didn’t seem to be worn out, just loose.

If he tinkered with them, maybe the old blades could still work. Swett put off finishing the job until Dickson returned, which didn’t happen right away. Figuring Dickson had gotten sidetracked, Swett went back to weed-trimming.

Meanwhile, inside the nonprofit recreation center, Barbara Parker, the membership and marketing director, had received a call that she thought Executive Director Curtis Richardson should know about.

“A woman just called and said someone had stolen the windshield wiper blades off her minivan while it was in our parking lot,” Parker told her boss.

“Someone is swiping what?” responded Richardson.

Indeed, after finishing a morning workout, Meredith Frost, a member from Canaan, had walked out to her minivan, only to find her windshield wipers in an upright position and the blades missing. She needed to pick up her daughter at nursery school, so she didn’t have time to go back inside. And since it wasn’t raining, she drove off and waited until she was on the road to call the Witherell Center with the news: A wiper swiper was on the loose in Lebanon.

Or could it have been another scenario?

Yup. Swett and Dickson had gotten the wrong minivan. Bowen’s car wasn’t even in the parking lot.

Parker called Frost to let her know about the mistake and that Swett would be on his way to Canaan to put new blades on her car.

We’re so sorry,” said Parker, explaining that they were trying to help Bowen.

No problem, said Frost. She was just leaving a repair shop, where she had just finished having new blades installed.

“Meredith was so nice about it,” Parker said. “It was amazing how understanding she was.”

Was she inconvenienced? For sure. (And she was also out more than a few bucks. Wiper blades aren’t cheap.)

But Frost’s response was telling. She recognized that mistakes happen and good intentions don’t always pan out.

Frost and her husband, the athletic director at Cardigan Mountain School, have three children, all between the ages of 3 and 6. Swett and Dickson were “trying to help to a friend who needed it,” Frost told me. “They were trying to do something nice. I didn’t want to ruin it.”

When Bowen arrived at the Witherell Center later that day, her co-workers made sure that her old, worn out blades were replaced. “It was great to have another thing off my plate,” said Bowen.

Since the wiper caper, another Witherell Center member came to Swett after locking her keys in the car. He could have told her to call an auto club or a locksmith. Instead he drove her home to pick up a spare set.

“We’re a community center, so we treat it like that,” said Swett.

Jim Kenyon can be reached
at Jim.Kenyon@valley.net.