Intangibles

In its heyday, it must have been a sight. In the storefront showroom over the years, I can chronologically visualize a gleaming late ‘60s Mustang, an LTD wood-paneled station wagon, the first Taurus.

Situated on the north side of the town square in my wife’s hometown of Girard, Kansas, was a small-town Ford dealership. A fixture of the rural culture that’s slowly fading.

Hank Menghini and his brother were M&M Motors. Over the years, Jackie’s family bought probably two dozen vehicles from Hank. Every one of them on a handshake.

Menghini, Mengarelli, Palucca, Saia. Names on mailboxes and gravestones in Crawford and Cherokee counties trace the region’s heritage.

Immigrants from Italy and southeast Europe arrived in southeast Kansas a hundred years ago seeking the American dream in the heavy metal and coal mines beneath the Cherokee Lowlands. Coal miners and zinc smelters begot town square merchants.

During our courtship, Jackie needed a new car. My 10-year old son and I tagged along. At one point in the discussion (I can’t call it a negotiation – that’s how good this guy was,) Hank reaches into his pocket, pulls out a $10 bill and offers it to Scott. My son looks at me for approval through wide eyes, wondering if this is legit.

It is.

Within half an hour, Hank and Jackie shake hands. She’s got a new ’96 Thunderbird.

“What are

you

driving?”

Hank knew exactly what he was doing. He’d paid off the kid, sealed the deal with the girlfriend and was now zeroing in on me.

You talkin’ to me? No interest in trading cars, thank you very much. Gotta go. Pleasure meeting you. Jackie’s family’s expecting us. We’re spozed to bring home Chicken Mary’s. Runnin’ late. Seeya.

Not so fast, ace.

Procured at the pinnacle of my post-divorce, field-playing era in Topeka, I loved my fire-engine red ’89 Camaro. Jackie hated it. She called it the [rhymes with ‘venus’]-mobile.

Like any gifted sizer-up of human behavior, Hank sensed

all

of this. He was playing me like a violin. I’d been made. I listened politely as he made me an offer I couldn’t refuse.

The fair deal was a given – to anyone who walked through the showroom door. Hank had made that decision decades ago, freeing him to hone his skills on winning the hearts and minds of those who accompany erstwhile [rhymes with ‘venus’]-mobilers.

Hank Menghini just smiled as he sold me a more monogamous relationship-friendly ’95 Thunderbird. His and hers T-birds. (Mine with a sunroof. Hers, a spoiler.) Five years later after we were married, we went back to M&M and swapped my ‘Bird for an ’01 Explorer Sport.

Hank died a few years ago. His car dealership succumbed not long after. The Girard town square’s just not the same. Never will be. It’s a scene currently playing throughout the middle of the country, in a small town near you.

Today, we’re still driving that Explorer and Jackie’s ’96 ‘Bird. 120K+ miles, each. Both running like well-oiled machines.

We’ve talked about trading several times. But the thing that always stops us is the inevitable disappointment we know awaits at any car dealer that is not M&M Motors in Girard, Kansas.

The zinc and coal mines of southeast Kansas tapped out long ago. Over all those years, Hank Menghini wasn’t just selling cars. This coal miner’s son was offering up veins of honesty, trust, and loyalty.

A mother lode of intangible values.

How do you put a price tag on that?