Monday, July 24, 2006


Three years ago I said goodbye to my 1993 blue 4-door Honda Civic. It was the first car I’d ever purchased brand new. I drove it for ten years and 110,000 miles with no problems at all. I sold it to a college student, the first person who stopped by to see it after I’d posted signs in the windows. I took a pro-active approach to selling and wrote “Buy This Car.” It worked, but I had to include lessons for her in driving a standard shift.

I replaced the Civic with another one; they’re great on gas mileage. I briefly considered a CR-V, possibly a “previously owned vehicle” as they like to call them at College Hills Honda. We ruled that out in favor of another new car. One phrase kept going through my mind: “My next car is going to have a sun roof.” For some reason I had been saying this to myself for months—possibly years. A sporty black Civic on the lot had a bunch of fancy extras—including the required roof. I still remember where I was standing when I spied the black Civic Coupe and decided that was my car. The salesman, Ernie, had a bit of a frown and my significant other asked, “A two-door? Are you sure?”

But, I was sure. I thought of the times I’d taken passengers to work-related meetings and the two-door excuse suddenly seemed appealing; selfish of me, in retrospect. The coupe looked even sportier. I had just applied for a job in Holmes County (which never actually materialized) and had a fleeting mental picture of myself cruising down a certain shady winding road to that new job in the new car. A week after I drove it home, I suddenly had an attack of environmental remorse—I could have gotten a Civic hybrid and the only reason I didn’t consider it was that it didn’t come with a sun roof!

The day we bought that black Civic, a certain woman who isn’t, let’s say, my favorite friend of all time, happened to be browsing on the car lot. She popped off with a comment that had no basis of truth but implied I’d slept in a tent with a strange man on a bike tour we both were on together. (Long story I can’t go into here!) My Significant Other needed some further explanations after that one! As it turned out, this was only the beginning of a lot of future bad Car-ma still in store.

About a week later, I took my new car to visit my family. I should say, “show off my car;” I was still in new car heaven. On the way, I decided to go through a car wash to make sure it looked completely fabulous. I had already noted how quickly black gets dirty. I’d been forewarned about that too by people in the know. I drove into the car wash, which had one of those tracks and somehow I got my tire stuck between the track and the washing mechanism. I sat there under the soapy shower trying to figure out what to do. Finally, I blew my horn until another customer came to see what was going on. In the end, I had to call AAA. A tow truck driver jacked up the car and eased it out. Otherwise, in the very first week, my new car would have had a nasty scrape on the left front fender.

I averted that scrape, but as the weeks and months wore on, I seemed to be prone to small mishaps. Once someone side-swiped me in a Wal-mart parking lot and left some white paint on the drivers’ side door. Another time I got too close to the mailbox and skinned the back of the mirror. I backed into the woodpile at home and suffered an attack by a prickly bush that encroached into the first parking space in the lot at work. (It was the parking space reserved for late-comers, I realized afterward.) Keeping the car clean was a losing battle. The black interior didn’t look so much sporty as linty, with stray blond hair and crumbs of food scattered over the seats.

When our grandchildren rode with me we had to have a lesson in entering the backseat. Then a new grandchild came and I had the added fun, on a few occasions, of trying to secure a car seat from the front entry. I couldn’t put my purse or a bag from the store in the backseat without sliding it forward. I became a master at wrestling large items into the car, including 6 ft. folding tables, display racks, flea market finds and Berlin Flyer wagons.

The crowning moment of humiliation came on a day when I was traveling to Holmes County on Rt. 241. My mind was elsewhere—on my future announcement of resignation from my job. Then I wondered if I had lunch money in my purse and I looked down to reassure myself. At that exact moment, the cement mixer truck in front of me slowed down and signaled to turn onto a road I didn’t even know existed. When I looked up, I had rammed into the trough that extends from the back of his truck and lost all control of my final destination.

I came to rest unhurt. The car was wedged against a giant maple tree and for a fleeting moment I hoped the car was “totaled.” An hour or so later, I drove it to AutoWorks in Holmesville where it was eventually given a $7000 beauty treatment. I rented a four-door Civic that didn’t even have automatic windows—let alone a sun roof--and wished I could just keep that car.

I drove the black Civic Coupe many more miles after the accident. On an icy morning, I skidded into a curb and drove the car for weeks with it out of alignment. When I belatedly realized what had happened I had to buy four new tires.

On hot days, I’d open the sun roof and turn on the air. More times than I can count, I stuffed things into the back seat and juggled cargo and passengers. One evening I drove out on a country road to do an errand. I was having trouble finding the house number and when I turned around in a driveway, I backed the car over the culvert. There I was, stranded with the left front tire wedged in the ditch and the back right tire high in the air. It was enough to make me cry, (literal meaning).

I began talking about selling the Civic Coupe. I knew it didn’t make sense from a financial viewpoint. You always lose appreciation when you sell a relatively new car. A car you buy new and service regularly is a known quantity when compared to a “pre-owned vehicle.” My Significant Other kept driving home these points with a phrase I must have heard two dozen times. “If you sell it you’re going to ‘take a beating,’ he kept emphasizing. (Why do men persist in using such violent language?)

What he didn’t understand is that I’d already taken quite a few beatings as a result of owning this car. I defied conventional wisdom and printed from my computer files the “Buy This Car” sign. A day or two later, the neighbors four doors down drove up in their large pickup truck to take a look. They said my Civic Coupe was the perfect solution to their need for a car that would get good gas mileage. It was a done deal in no time.

Less than a week later, when I was getting our other car serviced, I wandered over to the Pre-owned Vehicle section and asked to talk with Ernie. He was more than willing to show me a “very clean and well-maintained” 2000 CR-V. I took it for a spin. The things he said about it were all the things he’d said three years earlier when I’d looked. His wife drives one and loves the many convenient features. There is even a built-in picnic table. This one also had both a CD player and a tape player so I could still listen to the old favorite cassettes. It also had shiny wheels and a bug deflector. The previous owner was a schoolteacher who took “meticulous care” of it and traded it in for a new one.

I took a real beating when I bought it. It is three years older than the car I sold; it doesn’t have power door locks or a sun roof. It also has twice as many miles on it. But I’m excited about being able to haul cargo and passengers with ease. It isn’t easy to live with constant reminders of past mistakes, and that’s what I had to do nearly every time I got into the black Civic Coupe. My son-in-law called it “buyer’s remorse.” I called it bad Car-ma.

It may be poor judgment, irrational, and silly of me, but from the driver’s seat in the 2000 CR-V, it makes perfect sense to ditch bad Car-ma and replace it with positive Car-ma. There is a better ride ahead for me, I’m sure. When we wrote down the “Vin Number”—the number assigned to every vehicle manufactured—I noted that my silver “certified Pre-owned CR-V” had a number that started with my initials: JHLR . . . .The R was there for my Significant Other—his first name initial. He needed to know this was good Car-ma. The transaction, I predict, will please both of us and will come to have a meaning far beyond the initial and completely obvious financial flagellation.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Right At Home

Lofty Thoughts

Right At Home

It would make a great magazine article: "Gardening with my Amish Neighbor." Strangely, most of the time, I completely forget how special my experiences are; I am too busy fighting off potato bugs with Esther and hacking weeds at the other end of the row she started working on while I was still trekking down her lane. I take my time and admire the clover field to my right or the wild cherry trees that drop a generous birdie feast over the gravel to my left.

I have lost count of the years I’ve known Esther. Once we were strangers who lived across the road from each other. Then one winter I invited her over for tea and asked if I could pay her to grow some vegetables for me—I explained the concept of a CSA (community supported agriculture). By the time I quit my job in Wooster, I counted among my newly acquired blessings that of having more time to work in “our” garden.

This morning I hoed some of our 28 tomato plants and Esther told me she thought the hoe I have been using for the past three years is responsible for making me tired. She is partial to a small three-pronged hoe her daughter Edna picked up at the flea market. After trying it, I was inclined to agree.

Tools were of concern today. Reuben has again misplaced the shovel and Esther wants to dig out the comfrey plants that are still coming up two years after we moved the herbs to a different spot. She likes the blue flowers they produce.

Soon, we moved from working in the “big garden” to the “little garden” which has a wonderful rich loamy texture. The big garden is only a few years old. In a former life it may have been a gravel pit, for all the stones that keep surfacing. We’ve managed to kill off most of the thistles in it by spraying them with vinegar, but it isn’t especially fun to work there.

The little garden was perfect for working in today, with exactly the right amount of moisture in the soil. Not only that, it was cool and breezy. We took off our shoes and I worked for several hours pulling weeds and the lettuce and spinach that had gone to seed with some radishes that would never make it in the summer weather. I only stepped on one stone the entire time I worked.

I accidentally pulled up a carrot while I was weeding. I was getting hungry and wishing for some water to wash the carrot. Edna brought a bucket and the next thing we were having a garden lunch of (very) fresh carrots. Edna and Esther each found a large one but I contented myself with several smaller ones wrapped in some romaine leaves. About an hour later, we ate oatmeal sandwich cookies and had a glass of water as we sat in the shade of a maple tree.

While I was weeding, I’d noticed the run-away chamomile plants. They’ve spread from and earlier herb bed to the pasture on the other side of the picket fence. Now I know why Esther frowned when I brought her a packet of chamomile seed in the spring. “What part of the chamomile plant do you use to make tea?” I inquired of Esther today.

“You dry the flowers,” she said.

“Do you have any idea how many hours I’d have to sit at my computer doing Internet searches to learn all the things you’ve told me this summer?” I asked my neighbor. I’m suddenly struck by the way my life has taken a turn for the better since I’ve gotten to know my neighbors.

While Edna and I took care of the last peas, Esther got the job of cleaning out the garlic bed. She had to contend with the drifts of asparagus that kept falling across her back as she worked. Edna and I were pulling over gown peas off the dying vines and shelling them into one of four large stainless steel bowls she’d brought out—far more containers than we needed.

Rover barked and we looked up as a pony cart rolled down the lane. Esther went to talk to the young people in the cart. In less than a minute, they’d turned around and were trotting back up the lane. They had only come to let the Millers know there would be another neighborhood ice cream supper next Thursday—the pony express.

I wriggled my toes in the soft dirt and stretched. Above me the windmill creaked and the little bantam rooster continued to crow even though it was afternoon. My dog, Beau, and Rover chased each other around in the lawn. It was only half mowed. A visitor had interrupted Esther while she was mowing it (with a push mower) last night.

Before I left, I went into the house to wash my hands at the sink inside the back door. There is no mirror above the sink; no pictures on the wall except for a calendar or two. There is no television, phone or radio. There is an “ice box” in the “wash house.” My neighbors manage to live on a couple of gallons of gasoline a month. There is an engine to power the washing machine and another to pump water when the wind isn’t blowing. For some reason, I don’t think a lot about any of this when I’m there. In fact, most of the time, I feel right at home.