You'd think if your spouse came home after a trip into town and told you her vehicle needed windshield washer fluid, it would be a pretty simple thing to handle.

You might think wrong. My spouse came home two days ago and told me that. Any chance I could take care of the problem? Well, sure. Pretty sure I have some fluid in the garage.

I pawed through cans and jugs and buckets, found a jug of windshield washer fluid, popped the hood on the vehicle and filled the reservoir. The cap on the reservoir clearly read "Windshield washer fluid only.'' Confidently, I secured the cap, slid into the driver's seat, activated the lever and fluid sprayed across the front and rear windows. I went to report a job well and quickly done.

The next day, Nancy told me the window washers worked fine when she left the garage but when she came out of the "Y'' to return home, nothing sprayed, no matter how she toggled the lever next to the steering wheel.

Puzzled - I'd just dumped a whole gallon of fluid into the reservoir, after all - I went to the garage and dug the empty jug from the trash. I suppose some folks will claim they knew companies makes windshield washer fluid that is only effective above 32 degrees. I figured the stuff was kind of like antifreeze, good at any temperature. I'd make it that way if I were selling it in this part of the country.

I ran downtown to the hardware store and bought a couple of jugs of "good to minus 25 degrees'' stuff. After Nancy's car had warmed in the garage, I sat in the seat and pumped the fluid dispenser lever to empty the old fluid so I could pour in a gallon of the minus 25. The system works just fine now, I'm pleased to say.

"Well, let that be a good lesson for all of us, then,'' I said to Nancy.

My dad said the same thing to me once, and I've never forgotten the circumstances. As a young guy on the farm - in a big hurry for no particular reason except that I was young - I ignored my father's repeated cautions to always, always allow the tractor to cool before refueling it. I sometimes did that, but it seemed such a waste of valuable time. So, once when I pulled into the farmyard, I parked at the gas pump and immediately swung the hose over to the tractor's fuel tank. Well, wouldn't you just know. Somehow, I sprayed a stream of gasoline across the engine. It dripped and ran and ignited. With flames building along the sides of the engine compartment, I got the motor started and drove away from the pump. I parked the tractor, shut the engine down and ran for some gunny sacks.

Unfortunately, I parked near the feedlot fence and close - too close, it turned out - to some of the hay we had piled conveniently nearby. My dad and brother came to help put out the fire. So did the truck from Reliance. We got the flames knocked back in good time. The tractor was a little bit ruined. The corral fence was scorched and needed a few boards replaced. Some of the hay had gone up in smoke, too.

When order was restored, a fair number of people studied me in a rather judgmental way. My dad, I must say, was remarkably calm. He said quietly, "I have told you not to refuel when the engine is still hot, haven't I?'' He said it earnestly, as if he really wanted an answer. I nodded. I managed to choke out, "Yes,'' and after a few deep breaths, I found voice to assure him it wouldn't happen again.

"Well, let that be a good lesson for all of us, then,'' he said as he turned away.

I suppose it was, too. I never destroyed another tractor or singed another corral fence or burned another pile of hay. I doubt I'll ever pour from a jug without reading the label, either, but I could have done without the lesson.