“Not too many women drive cars like this,” my husband Kurt noted as I admired the vehicle from a distance.
The classic ’68 Nova with a hand-lettered “For Sale” sign in the window sported a custom paint job. It came equipped with wide tires and shiny wheels. Sidling up to the car, I opened the driver’s door. The interior was upholstered in slippery black vinyl. It had a new headliner. I slid into the driver’s seat, ran my hand across the dash, and fingered the radio dial. There aren’t many gadgets on the dashboard of a ’68 Nova, and I liked that. Cruise control makes me feel out-of-control. So do windshield wipers with three different speeds. Ditto for warning lights that start flashing when any little thing goes wrong. Buttons and switches make me nervous.
Kurt opened the passenger door and took a seat. Feigning indifference but barely hiding his excitement nonetheless, he reached into the glove box and handed me the title. That brawny car belonged to me! I immediately turned the key, clicked on the blinker, and merged into traffic. Four smoking tires left skid marks across the intersection when I gunned the engine and popped the clutch after stalling at the light. Despite that humiliation, the Nova gave me a feeling of complete emancipation. I quickly scanned the street ahead for law enforcement, then exceeded the speed limit for the first time in my life.
* * *
The Nova had been in my possession for less than a week when I grazed the garbage can in our driveway and broke the driver’s side mirror. As the tinkle of broken glass assailed my eardrums, I beat my fists on the steering wheel. It wasn’t the damage to my exquisite car that had provoked such anguish. It was the broken mirror that made me moan. At my age, I didn’t need seven years of bad luck.
Hoping to avoid further mishaps, I drove with exaggerated caution along untrafficked back streets and alleys when I headed out to the auto parts store. Despite my safe arrival, I pushed open the door with shaking hands. As I entered the daunting domain of male mechanics, the manly aroma of car care products, gadgets, and tools tickled my nose. Although totally out of my realm, I commenced to cruise the aisles.
When a clerk at last approached me, I bewailed the events of my ill-omened day and bemoaned the adverse vibes provoked by my broken side mirror. “Do you suppose those seven years of bad luck will be revoked once the car mirror’s fixed?” I asked.
He looked at me through his grimy eyeglasses. “Lady, I’m a parts clerk–not a fortuneteller.” After glancing out the window and surveying my pretty car, he shook his head, plucked a mirror from a rack, and plunked it on the counter. He regarded the “designed for a woman” tool kit that I had snagged from a display near the till with disdain before passing it over the scanner.
The surly clerk’s attitude left me feeling like a car with four flat tires. When he slammed the till’s drawer closed with a flick of a grease-smudged thumb, I snatched up my bag and hurried out the door.
* * *
I stared at the side mirror for three days before I opened the box that enclosed it. The instructions, printed in “male-speak,” left me muddled and confused. Still, the feminine tool kit that I had purchased begged to be handled. The grips on the screwdrivers, wrenches, and pliers were pastel pink.
Pulling on a pair of Kurt’s dirty coveralls to give me inspiration, I jabbed and poked at the broken mirror with a screwdriver for an hour before successfully removing it and fastening on the new one. As long as I was at it, I detached a door panel and tinkered with a sticky latch. I even figured out how to open the hood. Mindful that metal parts and wires had the potential to jolt me, I cautiously pulled out the dipstick. The oil was low, so I added a quart. That simple act gave me a feeling of pride. In all the years that I had driven, I’d never once had the courage to check the fluids in the family car.
Feeling cocky and reckless, I smudged a dab of grease across my left cheek to give me credibility, finger-combed my hair, applied a fresh layer of lipstick, then roared down to the library to check out a book on car repair. The bulky manual weighed at least five hundred pounds. I tucked it under my arm and staggered to the check-out counter.
By the time Kurt had arrived home from work some hours later, I had replaced a few cracked hoses and cleaned up the battery cables. Owning a vehicle is so empowering! I wiped the grease off my cheek with a grimy shop rag before giving my man a hug.
“Not bad for a woman who won’t push the buttons on a tv clicker, use a cell phone, or connect to the Internet,” Kurt acknowledged after I detailed the events of my day.
“You better watch out, buster. I’m just getting started.” I patted the hood of my ’68 Nova, then polished off a grease mark with the cuff of my coveralls. “This car’s getting a brake job tomorrow.”
Kurt raised his eyebrows skeptically, but I gave him a wicked smile.
“Haven’t you heard that a woman doesn’t reach her mechanical peak until she’s over forty?”
Teresa Wendel Bio:
Teresa Wendel’s essays and short stories have appeared in national, regional, and local magazines and newspapers. Her collection of 44 interconnected humor essays, Belly Button Blues—Reflections, is now available at amazon.com. She lives in Wenatchee, Washington with her husband Kurt. Follow Teresa on her website: www.bellybuttonblues.wordpress.com and like her Bellybuttonblues page. You can also join her on LinkedIn.
This proves that with passion, you can accomplish whatever you’ve set your mind to overcome. I enjoyed your story and admire women who can fix things, whether at home, or with their car. As you said yourself, “Not bad for a woman who won’t push the buttons on a tv clicker, use a cell phone, or connect to the Internet.”
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