The 16 year old car I’ve been sharing with my son has had it… its very latest expression of resistance being the driver’s side door, which will only close after a 5 part dance of pray, jiggle, shake, pull, and finally, slam. This, on top of the finicky gas reader, the loud whistle just slightly different from the one we’re used to due to a loose belt somewhere, and the crackled melting seats. The time to let go is now–yesterday actually–but I’ve been hesitating. Why?
For most of my childhood, my grandfather owned an auto body shop. Occasionally, we’d drive up to see him at work… a mostly frustrating visit for a child outside of going to a restaurant at some point during the day, because there just weren’t many places safe to play. There were, however, interesting things about: typewriters, rolling stools, and calculators which made receipts.
For quite a few years, he lived right there behind his shop, in the same air-stream trailer we traveled in to see my Great grandfather for what would be the last time. It was in good condition, or seemed to be to my young eyes, although the cars and boats he endlessly gathered and traded were in precarious states much of the time.
Once, he tried to talk me into turning an airboat–the kind that glide through the Everglades–into a houseboat.
It was just the sort of project to lodge in his mind as a next big thing, alongside hydroponics gardening and online stock trading– things which for months or years he would beat the drum about, hoping someone in the family would seize and run with his idea.
He was right about computers though, encouraging what he saw me go toward naturally when given one, although he could be impatient about my bearing (real) fruit (money) in some way.
He always thought I should start a blog, but not like this one.
See the fruit factor, above. 😉
He liked to tinker as though getting away with something. Whether intricate work like watchmaking and sewing, or larger-scale mechanics and real estate, very little seemed all the way right, yet, in that not-quite-right-ness was a choice he was consciously making … a rebellious streak in an otherwise devoutly-intended life. I’m a little like that too. 🙂
Unlike me, my grandfather believed in formulas, and in sayings, like, “There are only two reasons people do things: fear of loss, or expectancy of gain.” I couldn’t glom on to this, or most of the formulas actually, no matter how oft repeated. I would think, “That’s a problem, if true.” But sometimes, later, after he’d gone, I would also ask myself whether it was true, of me, and determine that it not be. So, in an upside-down sort of way, that became great advice
We worried about him a lot in the last years. We worried when he insisted on driving those bartered cars, often breaking down several times between one point and the next. We worried that he thought rest stops were good places for naps; he felt that by looking as though he had nothing, he was safe from thieves. It was because of his own serious need of towing service that he always kept an AAA membership, adding my name to make sure I would never be stranded.
I feel a little stranded, now.
Which is what tipped the scales today… got me thinking a bit too deeply. Because of the state my car is in, I signed myself up for AAA this morning, then spent the rest of the day trying to shake deep and unreasonable anger… some at him, for worrying us with his maddening ways of thinking and infuriating priorities. And then, for going on before everything could make sense for the family, so that we might mourn his passing together without the second-arrow-suffering so common as to be cliche’. Suffice it to say we haven’t escaped that.
The membership was a little thing, but represented so much. When I received email confirmation for the account, my first thought, bizarrely, was, “His mercy endures forever.” I’d renewed this for myself, but in his name, in a way…
After all, it was my grandfather who taught me to drive, in a tiny Chevrolet he stored for a man who lived in another state. I practiced for hours and hours, circling cones he picked up somewhere and placed around the bowling alley parking lot across from his shop. He also taught me to play tennis, to fish, and to drive a boat out on the ocean. The very first time I saw a cruise ship was from what I realized then was his tiny boat… one which had seemed so large to me just the moment before.
I’m thankful I got the chance to express my appreciation to him directly many times, but I’m thankful for the other, difficult things, too. He could mostly handle having honest conversations about things we clashed about, because if a discussion became too heated, we’d both stop rather than risk deeply hurting (or god-forbid losing) the other.
Not everyone can do that.
But as to why I have avoided changing cars like the plague, aside from it being better for the environment not to constantly change… It is a feeling that just has so much baggage for me: fear of being fed bad advice, vulnerability at the mercy of others to follow through at their end in a trustworthy way.
To illustrate, I’ll share a story that sometimes strikes me as quite funny, and other times as desperately sad…
When pregnant with my second child, my then husband and I spent a stressful weekend squeezing the budget for what turned out to be, we knew by the Monday after, a true “lemon” of a used car. We went back to the dealership as soon as possible, but rather than calling in late to work, he left me at the dealership to make our case to a manager who, as the day went on, seemed to cruelly enjoy stretching out the hours, ridiculing the predicament I was in keeping my daughter contented, offering no help at all.
Eventually, I called my grandfather asking that he come with a show of support. He came from two hours away…
But as soon as he arrived, his tweaked-with truck broke down, right in the dealer’s lot. With the help of the salesmen who wanted to move it from the middle of everything, he got it going, but the feeling of that rescue left a deep impression. It confirmed a suspicion about my life – that I couldn’t rely on anyone except by some miracle or left-field surprise, when everything worked out strangely right.
Years later, we bought the first car I’d felt safe in driving in the rain, and after that, the vehicle which at the time of this writing, I’m still driving, all these years later– a vehicle that still wears the “blinging rims” it had when we first brought it home asserting they’d be immediately changed.
That itself seems some kind of trophy to the thinking that got me into the pickle I find myself in yet again… square one facing salesmen and managers and price tags and hidden codes and systems and my goodness, all the well-meaning bad advice! [Still] feeling lacking, small, vulnerable, foolish).
Step one: A Big Cry…
Step two: Catharsis? Yes, please.