Is This the End?



I’m afraid it might be the end.

For my good little car.

I have a history of shabby, old, rattle-trap cars.

I had a Volkswagon Beetle once – a stick shift, before I knew how to drive a stick shift – that had no heat, no windshield wipers and no floor. Driving it down the freeway was like standing in 70 mile an hour winds. I’d wear everything I could, on winter days. I’d get off at Oglethorpe Drive to pick up my friend, Linda. She’d come running out with a grin, an afghan her mother had crocheted…and ski masks! If the tires from a passing truck doused us with slush, we’d have to pull immediately off the road to chip the ice off the windshield. The gas gauge didn’t work. We often had to be rescued from the side of the road, out of gas. I drove it to and from college classes in Flint for an entire year, jerking and stalling whenever I had to switch gears.

I had a Ford LTD that burned more oil than gas. With that car, I stopped at every single gas station I passed, and bought the sludge oil that had been drained from other cars during an oil change. This was back when you could get an oil change at most any gas station.

I had a truck the first winter my husband and I separated. It had wooden side rails on the back that would fall off into the street every time I went around a corner. Not completely off, so that I could consider abandoning them. No, the back corners were firmly attached, so that if I didn’t stop and re-load the rails, I would be dragging them alongside, like broken wings. That truck also had very poor brakes. Luckily, though, it also had a horn that would blast, loudly and without reason. My daughters like to tell the story of when the priest absent-mindedly stepped into the street in front of us. I started furiously pumping the brakes, but it didn’t look good. Then – because there is a godthe horn blasted, the priest looked up, broke into a run, and made it safely to the curb.

These are not the very worst vehicles I’ve owned, nor the most colorful. Just a random sampling.

One lousy car after another.

The car I’ve been driving for the last few years, though, has been an exception.

It has been good transportation, for about five years, now.

My friend, Ruth, and her husband, Jack, sold it to me.

It was neat as a pin, got excellent gas mileage and had a good engine.

It had one major flaw. The radio stations could not be tuned in. “I’ve got it on a station now,” Jack told me, “just don’t move the dial, and you’ll always have radio.” Great!

Five hundred dollars. Exactly my limit when looking to purchase a new car. Worth every penny!

It’s a stick-shift, and I now know how to drive one! It has front wheel drive, so gets around well on Beaver Island roads. I know for a fact it will hold at least nine adults when, after closing the bar, we decide it’s necessary to go out to the Port of St. James and climb Mount Pisgah. We tested it!

There have been expenses, of course. I had to have the heater fixed, and I bought a set of new tires before the first winter. I replaced the battery after a year or so. I spent almost a thousand dollars getting the brakes fixed, before they were finally really, truly fixed, but it now has some of the best brakes I’ve ever experienced!

There have been a few unfortunate incidents.

My grandson got mad at me – for a totally non-car-related reason – and deliberately (might I say maliciously?) spun the radio knobs. That was the end of the music.

My windshield wipers worked great for one year, then worked independently for the next two. That meant I had to stop frequently to disentangle them. When the passenger side wiper quit working altogether, I considered it a blessing.

Driving home from work one summer evening, a deer jumped in front of my car and I couldn’t avoid hitting it. The accident crumpled the hood, broke out most of the plastic grill and shattered the headlights. From that time on, the hood didn’t quite latch properly.

A few months later, driving down the King’s Highway, the hood flew up and wrapped itself around the windshield. I had experienced that several times before with a Subaru I’d owned, so it didn’t scare me as badly as it otherwise might have. In fact, it took a bit of the crumple out of the hood, though it was left with an upward slope that held quite a bit of water.

From that time on, the hood was secured with a length of rope, compliments of my friend, Laura.

I had, at that time, only one working headlamp, and it aimed directly into the treetops. I’m not often out past dark anyway, but when my sisters visited, that was not acceptable. The nice repair job – not really visible in the photo – involves three small blocks of wood, two new headlamps and a half roll of duct tape.

The very day I quit my job at the hardware store, the rope that secured my hood snapped in an extreme gust of wind, and again sent the hood flying up to the windshield. This time, the glass cracked – pretty severely in one corner, with a long crack at just below eye level across the front. It dented the roof of the car, and sent the rear view mirror flying. I whipped over to the roadside and reconfigured the rope. Good as new.

Except that, in snowy weather, the rope gets frozen in place, making it very difficult to check fluid levels. Regular maintenance gets neglected. The last time the oil light came on, it took me two days with an extension cord and my blow dryer just to get the rope off! What I found when I got under the hood was not good.

About that same time, my only remaining windshield wiper quit working.

That was followed by consultations with professionals and friends and a day trip to the mechanic’s shop for an oil change.

The rope has been replaced by a stainless steel bolt for a hood ornament, holding a slick black rubber bungee cord to secure the hood.

The wiper is fixed temporarily, but it needs a new motor. Dare I order it?

Sometimes it only takes an expensive new part or a full tank of gas to put the curse on a car.

We all had high hopes. It seemed to be working fine.

Then, leaving town last night after dinner and a movie (Eggplant Parmesan was terrific; “Argo” was sensational!), I had just rounded the corner onto the King’s Highway when lights started coming on.

Check Engine.



I lost power. The car shuddered, then stalled. It would not re-start.

It may be terminal.

Thank you, dear Liz, for picking me up from the roadside, and driving me all the way home.

Thank you, Tom, for giving me a lift to Aunt Katie’s this morning, so we could get to church.

Michelle and Deb, thank you so much for taking time this morning to push my car off the road!

Bob, thanks for the ride home after Mass.

Thank you, Laura, for offering me the use of your car while you’re on the mainland!

Thank you, Johnny B, for offering me the use of your vehicle – indefinitely – until I can get something else!

Thank you, Doug, for your willingness to go to town three full hours sooner than you’d planned, in order to see that I get to work on time!

Thank you, John R., for always being willing to help!

Finally, thank you, Aunt Katie, for calling just to check on me this evening, because you worried.

I was fully planning a self-pity extravaganza. I was well on my way.

I’m still a bit depressed over the condition of my car.

It’s the best car I ever owned!

Among the good people here, though, blessings abound! It seems you can be down…but you’re never down and out!


20 responses »

    • The trouble with losing a car mid-winter is that we have no ferry boat to bring another here…but, there are a few old beaters left on the island, I guess. It’s true, I have wonderful friends and support here. In fact, I do have so many car stories, it was hard to choose. Some seemed so outrageous I questioned whether anyone would believe them! thanks for reading, Joss, and for your comments!

  1. I’ve always thought there was kind of zen to your vechicles. I remembered one you let me use when I was on the island years ago. It may have had bad brakes but it never went fast enough to make that a problem. The windshield wipers didn’t work but it wouldn’t start on a damp day anyway. It didn’t have a horn which could have presented a problem with the brake issue if it hadn’t been for the fact that the lack of a muffler totally removed the element of surprise. I can’t remember if it was one of your cars that no reverse checked the problem on no back-up lights.
    Your cars have all attained the poster child status of an “island car”.
    I’ve known you long enough have been aware, if not a part of, a few of your car adventures, and can confirm the 9 person person mission to Mt Pisgah, but sworn to secretcy, I will end the story there. Your headlight in the trees at least told us where you were on the island and I must admit “Cindy’s car”, is always part of the conversation on the trip back to the mainland.

    • Yes, you have first hand knowledge of quite a few of my old cars! You’re right, too, many people have mentioned that my car is the epitome of “island car”…to which I always give a surprised look and respond “What!?! This is the best car I’ve ever owned!”
      Thanks for reading, Bob, and for your comments!

  2. I recently had to put my favorite car down. It was a 1998 Saturn SL. I loved that car. She gave her life for my safety and gave her undead parts to other Saturns so they may live longer. I miss little Ame (pronounced Amy), but I kinda like the new space pod that replaced her.

    Good luck!

    • Those of us that keep out cars a long time know that they do become kind of like family. We know their quirks and foibles, their strengths and weaknesses. We sometimes name them. We try to save them for as long as we can…and it’s always sad to lose them. I can tell you understand! Thanks for reading, Sara, and for your comments!

      • Oh I totally get it. I’m not one to trade in a three-year-old car for a brand new one. When I buy a car I keep it until it dies. I loved my Saturn, literally. Good luck with your trials!

    • Do you think he might reconsider loaning me a car? There is nothing here that he doesn’t already know…this is a small island! I hope he reads, for the gratitude I expressed, but I’ll be sure to give him lots of thanks, anyway.
      Thanks for reading, Jack, and for your comments!

  3. Cindy, I feel guilty because I laughed my way through this. But it’s your fault, you know, for being such an entertaining writer! I remember once, long ago, I bought a book of writing prompts. One of them was “Pretend you are a car. Tell your story.” I wish I’d known some of your cars! I truly hope the perfect car finds its way to you now — you deserve it!

    • Oh, I am so flattered that I made you laugh! That is highest praise for me, you know. I always think I can tell a story of misery or disaster and allow people to see that there is still humor there…I rarely succeed. I don’t take life too seriously most of the time. At least, thank God, when it comes to automobiles!
      Thank you for reading, Kate, and for your kind comments!

  4. Ya – it looks like it has seen better days! I have fond memories of some quirky old cars too, but these days I am much less adventurous and prefer safety šŸ™‚ Good luck with your car hunting – loved the story!

    • If I were driving on the mainland, I would be much more interested in safety, too! I shudder to think about some of those old cars I drove on highways and freeways, with my kids jostling around in the backseat. Here on Beaver Island, my top speed is about 30mph, and I’m generally the only car on the road. That makes a difference.
      Thank you for reading, and for your kind comments!

      • Yes, it definitely does make a difference. Highways are so dangerous these days. I remember the days as kids when we used to ride up in the back window. Sigh. The good old days…… šŸ™‚

    • Yes, quite a few! It has been dependable transportation for quite a while now. I’m still waiting to hear from the mechanic…hoping there might be a few miles left in her. Thank you for reading, Tammy, and for your comments!

  5. I loved this post Cindy, a life through cars – through what we call bangers or runners. We’ve had many like that – hand-me-downs, freebies or Ā£500 ‘rs all brilliant and all tell tales too !
    You made it home safe and sound šŸ™‚

    • Yes! Home safe, that’s the key. I’m still waiting to hear from the mechanic, hoping that it’s fixable. In the meantime I’m feeling a bit out of my element in a loaner…power windows and doors, no dents, everything working as it should…wow! People really do live like this! Thanks for reading, Claire, and for your comment!

  6. Oh, gosh, Cindy so sorry for your car troubles. We’ve been there more times than we can count on toes and fingers, too. Wishing you the best of luck in getting your vehicle fixed or having money to get a new one. (It seems like you are rich in friends and family, though. What a gift to have so many willing to help you out.)

    • I am very fortunate to have so many kind people willing to help! At this time, I am driving a wonderful mini van, thanks to Johnny B and his wife, Deb. They actually even filled it up with gas before they brought it to me! My car is not repairable (timing chain was sheared off) so I will be looking for a replacement as soon as the ferry is running. Thanks for reading, Kathy, and for your good wishes!

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