“My Gutsy Story” by Teresa Wendel


 “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.

Teresa Wendel's Supernova

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.


Sonia Says:

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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Comments (42)

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  1. Sonia Marsh says:

    Thanks Teresa for sharing this story with us. I do admire you for learning how to repair your Classic’68 Nova. Now if only I could fix the brakes on my 2007 Kia Rio myself.

    • I don’t think it’s as easy to work on a newer car. Everything’s packed in so tight, there’s nowhere to put your hands.
      Thanks for letting me share my story on your lovely website, Sonia. Have a great time in Paris.
      Teresa Cleveland Wendel recently posted..Gutsy WomenMy Profile

      • Sonia Marsh says:

        See, you know more about cars than I do. Perhaps you need to call the car guys on NPR and surprise them with your knowledge.

  2. Doreen Cox says:

    ‘You are woman..I hear you roar!’ Who knew that a ’68 Supernova could inspire someone to move out of a comfort zone!! Your story is inspiring, Teresa..Kudos for ‘taking the bull by its horns’ (as my mother had often said) and becoming a self-taught auto mechanic. Still shaking my head in wonder 🙂

  3. lupercio Rangel says:

    Teresa, you should see my face ….smiling to no end !…reading your story !…a writer, swimer a self-taught automobile mechanic !… what ells ?

  4. Well hello, my friend! I guess you don’t know everything about me, do you?
    Teresa Cleveland Wendel recently posted..Gutsy WomenMy Profile

  5. Thanks for a cute story, Teresa. Bet you could write about other of your adventures not usual for a “girly girl.”

  6. Fred Koenig says:

    Thanks for sharing a great story Teresa. You’re more mechanically inclined than me, however I suppose that’s not saying much. Anyway, I can just visualize you laying some patches in your Nova. Reminds me of the 72′ Heavy Chevy (SS) that I used to have. Best car I ever had.

    • Hey Fred–I don’t think anyone will feel as much nostalgia for the 2012 cars as we feel about anything older than a 75.

      To those who don’t know Fred, he’s my oldest buddy and a main character in Belly Button Blues.
      Teresa Cleveland Wendel recently posted..Gutsy WomenMy Profile

  7. Dhyan says:

    I just love coming back to this site because of the gutsy stories you always provide us here Sonia.. Thanks!
    Dhyan recently posted..aerials essexMy Profile

  8. Judy Kimball says:

    I agree with Doreen (you took the bull by the horn!), and yes you are such an inspiration Teresa; never ceasing to learn something new in life! Your story reminds me of a friend who needed brakes on her old Toyota…couldn’t afford to take it the shop, so she studied the manual, figured it out, completed the deed (no garage and it was cold outside) meanwhile, while her dirt bag husband watched a football game inside!

  9. Lady Fi says:

    So amusing! I totally understand this secret male-domain of the carhood that guys have… Well done you for breaking it!
    Lady Fi recently posted..Beautiful imperfectionMy Profile

  10. Born27 says:

    Broom Boom! I admire you You still appreciate that old school Nova. Well, That’s pretty vintage.
    Born27 recently posted..Conference Call PricingMy Profile

  11. Alejandro Dimitri says:

    I think Teresa is a brave women, because she can handle her car nicely. Everybody knows that driving a car is not so easy.
    Alejandro Dimitri recently posted..Gold: What’s REALLY Behind the Record Rise, Bull or Bubble?My Profile

  12. Cyprian says:

    You did a great job in your car. Love it. I really love your crazy story I hope you will have another story like this.
    Cyprian recently posted..Skin care organicMy Profile

  13. Jeanie says:

    Thanks for sharing your story..You did a great job in your car.
    Jeanie recently posted..Hot Tub Spares UKMy Profile

  14. Maryden25 says:

    That nova is a SUPER nova!
    Maryden25 recently posted..Millstone Coffee CouponMy Profile

  15. Thanks.
    As the gas station attendant would always say, “Sweet car!”
    Teresa Cleveland Wendel recently posted..Walking PapersMy Profile

  16. Heidi19 says:

    I love muscle car and i really admire your guts to drive this kind of car. Thanks for sharing your gutsy story Teresa. Love it!
    Heidi19 recently posted..Arowana – a prized investment catch or …My Profile

  17. Carol D. says:

    You should open a mechanics course for ladies! If I lived nearer I would definitely sign in and attend. Thanks for showing us how much we could learn to do, with the necessary guts of course…

  18. Siv Maria says:

    Just goes to show you that it is never to late to pick up a new hobby. Thank you for sharing such an entertaining story.
    Siv Maria recently posted..First LovesMy Profile

  19. […] April stories are up. So far we have Teresa Wendel’s  “My Gutsy Story” and Kathleen Pooler’s, “My Gutsy […]

  20. Boby Miller says:

    Love your awesome story !
    Surprises make your life important and good. You did a good Job. Thanks for sharing and more success !
    Boby Miller recently posted..Sort Oil ETFs ListMy Profile

  21. Brein says:

    This is truly inspiring ones, I do love reading this kind that make me chill at a time…
    Brein recently posted..Photography in MiamiMy Profile

  22. Thanks to everyone who read my essay and gave me such great feedback. I hope you’ll visit my blog for more very short essays.
    Teresa Cleveland Wendel recently posted..EcstacyMy Profile

  23. steve says:

    sorry but i had a hard time reading your story after you “fingered” the radio and how the hell did you get ALL 4 tires to smoke ? i also have a 68 nova i built from the ground up …. you can only get 1 or both rear tires to “smoke” how much did it cost to have a real mechanic fix your car when you were done with it???