Mom was a country girl, having grown up in a tiny town in southwestern Virginia. But after spending all of her adult life living with relatives in the suburbs of northern Virginia, she’d become pretty much “citified” as the country folk put it. As with most moms, though, she soldiered on, doing what needed to be done with whatever resources were available to her.
This is a true story. I haven’t changed any names. It will be published over a series of posts in the coming days and weeks. Previous post: The New Kid in Town
My dad would ride to work with Joe — they worked for the same company — so he could leave Mom our one and only vehicle. It was a 1963 Plymouth Valiant with a push-button transmission. Eventually, the button that engaged reverse stopped working, making the task of finding a suitable parking space somewhat challenging. Other than that, however, the car ran pretty well.
Then one day we were returning home from a trip to town for groceries — Mom, my brother, and me — when the car broke down. On a dirt road in the middle of the day, in the middle of nowhere, it was unlikely help would come along soon, so Mom lifted the hood and went to work. Whatever she did worked. She got the car started again. As she returned to the driver’s seat, she collided with the corner of the door, opening a gash below her left eyebrow and starting a flow of blood that was alarming. Instinctively her hand, covered in whatever it had gathered from under the hood of the car, flew to her eye, introducing God knows what into the wound, and she drove us home mostly blind in her left eye from the blood that would not stop gushing.
Luckily, there were no lasting effects from her injury, and both she and the Valiant kept rolling until another fateful day, on the same dirt road, it quit for good after a small fire erupted under the hood. We walked home.
Initially it was replaced by a 1967 Chevrolet Impala. In retrospect, I presume the car was rented, because we didn’t have it for very long. Our next car was an old ’50s-style sedan. It was ugly and I hated it. Apparently it hated us, too, because it tried twice to kill us.Its first attempt was one night when my mother had taken my brother and me with her to visit a neighbor. Returning to the car after our visit, it wouldn’t start. The road had enough of an incline that Mom could get it started by coasting it, but first she had to get it out of the driveway. I don’t know why she didn’t ask the neighbor for help — she was probably embarrassed — but she decided to put me, age 8, behind the wheel while she pushed. My instructions were to turn the wheel to the left once she’d pushed the car out of the driveway, thereby placing the car in the road facing down the hill, whereupon she would jump in and get the car started.
Clearly, her plan was flawed in multiple respects, one of which was that, without the engine running, the power steering didn’t work, and combined with the difficulty of turning the wheel on the gravel driveway, it was not likely that a 4-foot-tall girl could accomplish the task. Sure enough, with me unable to turn the wheel, the car shot straight across the road and started down the embankment to the lake. We must have gotten bogged down in the growth on the embankment, because miraculously, the car stopped. We walked home.
The second attempted murder by the car I hated occurred one rainy morning. The neighbors who lived across the lake had finally convinced the school bus driver to (literally) go the extra mile and pick up us kids in front of their house on days when the weather was bad. My mother left my brother sleeping in the house and drove me to the neighbors’ house where I waited with her in the car until the bus arrived. As I boarded the bus, Mom, anxious to get back to her sleeping baby, prepared to leave, only to find that, once again, the car wouldn’t start.
This time, as luck with have it, she was already parked on a slope, so no pushing was necessary, but she still had to coast down the slope to the road and turn the wheels to the left so she would be positioned to roll forward. As she began to back out toward the road, fighting the non-functioning power steering, the brakes failed and she rolled over the embankment and into a drainage pond.
I stood on the steps of the bus and witnessed the scene unfold. I began to wail at the sight of our car, with my mother inside, teetering precariously to one side. The bus driver barked, “Get in! She’ll be all right!” Obediently, I took my seat and we left. I spent my day wondering what had happened to my mother. I am happy to say that she survives to this day, but I don’t recall whatever happened to the car after that.
(Next: Of Bikes and Bandages)