Don’t forget to check the cotter pins

George Brown
By George Brown

Rick was an RV mechanic and our neighbor for 15 years. On cold winter mornings we visited and sipped coffee at his kitchen table. When the weather warmed our conversation moved to his back patio where we would sip cold drinks, sometimes in silence, as we watched the sun go down.

The topics of conversation were always the same – politics and current world affairs, reminiscing about times gone by, and the conundrums of our own daily lives. Rick was full of little quips of wisdom, one of my favorites being his sage counsel that, “Women are not to be understood, they are to be loved.”

With Rick being an RV mechanic it was only natural that I would turn to him for advice when we bought a travel trailer in 2008. Rick was more than happy to coach me on the proper care and maintenance of our Scotty, and particularly about the exact steps to follow when connecting and disconnecting it to the hitch of our SUV.

Rick passed away a year and a half ago but each time I hook up the trailer I can hear him saying, “Don’t forget to check the cotter pins.” When Rick first spoke these words they were basic instruction for a novice trailer owner, but like many of Rick’s other sayings these words are also good counsel about how to live our lives, a point I’ll come back to in a moment.

A number of components are used to safely secure a travel trailer to a vehicle – an electric harness for the trailer’s lights and brakes, a sway bar to prevent the trailer from fishtailing, and safety chains to keep the trailer from completely breaking away if the ball mount fails. But none of these features are as important as the little cotter pins.

Cotter pins are shaped somewhat like overgrown bobby pins. Four small cotter pins are used to secure our Scotty trailer to our SUV. Two pins secure the sway bar, one secures the coupler to the ball, and one secures the ball mount to the vehicle. If anyone of these fails the result could be a disastrous accident.

Each time I recall Rick’s warning to check the cotter pins the thought comes to mind of how important it is to regularly check the cotter pins of my life to be sure they are secure.

There are a number of things that help hold our lives together from day to day. For example, a job (or retirement check) is sufficient to keep us clothed, fed, and a roof over our heads. These are the trailer brakes, sway bars, and safety chains of our lives. All are essential, but like hitching a travel trailer to an SUV, without cotter pins we are all accidents waiting to happen.

What are the cotter pins of life? They are critical characteristics that we can’t see or physically touch but which we know are essential to be securely connected with each other in meaningful relationships. The cotter pins of life are trust, respect, and unconditional love. We’ve all witnessed and experienced what happens to our relationships if or when these cotter pins of life are neglected or disregarded. Without them we indeed are accidents waiting to happen.

In the course of time I hope to take each of my grandchildren camping and teach them about trailer hitches and cotter pins, but for now I’ll be content with trying to teach them about love, trust, and respect by being a good grandpa.

George Brown is a freelance writer. He lives in Jackson Township.