I spent fun time with our four-month-old Cairn Terrier, Shotgun, trying to plant a few basic commands into his excitable brain. Afternoons I would spend in the basement, experimenting with screen printing which, unintentionally, led to the set up of a makeshift table and two storage cabinets for art and craft projects.
Mike appreciated the hearty dinners I’d fix in our new slow-cooker, like pot roast, chicken and dumplings, and beef stew. Old fashioned pan fried chicken with real mashed potatoes and homemade gravy was a favorite. It was not unusual for me to make waffles or Dutch Babies from scratch to serve with ham or bacon and fruit.
Two weeks into September, it was clear I needed a car of my own, rather than herding our 4x4 truck and camper around on my weekly errands and to evening art classes at the junior high school. I studied reviews and consumer magazines for the next week, then voiced my opinion. "I’d like to get a Toyota Corolla 4x4 station wagon."
Mike did not agree. "I think it'd be better if we got what Earl, at work, did—a different brand of Asian import (which shall be called "Jidosha" for this writing project). He says it's a real good car. Gets up and down the hills in the snow like a charm."
"How long has he had it?" I believed in the value of actual experience.
"I don’t know, a couple of years, I think. We could go look at them this Saturday."
"Okay," I agreed. Maybe, after he got that out of his system, I could convince him to consider a Toyota. "Let’s do that."
Saturday morning we drove to the Jidosha dealership in downtown Seattle. After looking at a few wagons, and driving them around the block two or three times, Mike put the pressure on me for the reduced-price demo with 1,500 miles on it. His insistence was relentless—embarrassing, in fact.
Perhaps it would be okay, I thought—low mileage and this year’s model. It fit me well, had on-demand four-wheel-drive and my feet could reach the pedals. It was a nice-looking enough, pale yellow, with a roof rack and no apparent body damage.
I knew if I didn’t give in, I would never hear the end of it. So, I did. We left with a copy of the sales order in hand, which Mike would present to the credit union on Monday to get the car financed. The dealership would detail the car and have it ready for delivery Monday afternoon, providing we brought the necessary paperwork to complete the deal.
Mike came home from work early on delivery day. I saw to it that he had some food, then we hopped into our truck and headed for Seattle.
The little yellow wagon was sitting out front, polished to perfection. We completed the paperwork, and I drove away in the Jidosha with Mike right behind me, a full hour before commuter-traffic. We made it home without incident.
Getting to the store and post office was easier for me with a smaller car. Transporting art supplies to and from my evening classes at the junior high school was less cumbersome as well. My friend Mally had also signed up for pastel and watercolor classes that semester and we enjoyed visiting once again.
The days began to shorten, and the rains of October washed away the dust of summer. I opened my car door one morning, after Mike left for work, planning to make a quick trip to the store and post office, to find three inches of water on the floor. "Dang!"
Disappointed but determined to run my errands, I ran upstairs and returned with a turkey baster from the kitchen and a plastic pail from the laundry room. I must have sucked twenty pails full of water from the Jidosha that day.
I ran my errands and returned immediately home, then phoned the dealer and made an appointment to have the leak fixed the next day.
When Mike came home from work, I told him about my find.
"You’re kidding!" He plopped his lunch pail on the kitchen counter and walked to the front hall closet, removing his jacket as he went.
"Nope. I sucked it out with a turkey baster and ran my errands anyway, with the carpet soaked."
"Did you call the dealer and tell them?" He returned to the kitchen.
"Yep. Got an appointment for ten o’clock tomorrow to have it fixed."
"Good." Suspicion crossed his face. "I wonder if they knew it leaked?"
"They had to—a demo with 1500 miles on it? Of course they knew!" I reached into the cupboard and lifted out two dinner plates.
"Better make sure they dry out the carpet, too. If that sucker molds, you’re going to be one sick lady."
"I know …" I spooned a good sized helping of chicken and dumplings onto a soup plate and grabbed a fork and spoon on my way to the living room.
"Thanks," Mike said, taking the steaming dish from my hands.
I fixed a dish for myself and returned to the living room where dinner and a football game on TV would finish off our day.
The next morning I was at the service department earlier than my ten o’clock appointment. They told me it would take an hour or two, and directed me to the customer lounge. When the wall clock hit the two-and-a-half-hour mark, I inquired at the service desk.
"We’re working on it," they told me. An hour later, the answer was the same, although I suspected that no repairs were made to any cars during the mechanics’ lunch break.
I returned to the waiting room, bought a package of crackers and cheese from the vending machine, and continued my wait. Just before the clock marked three, a service writer walked into the lounge.
"Helen?" he called.
I nodded, raised my hand, and he approached me.
"We need to keep your car overnight, if that’s okay. Haven’t been able to pinpoint the source of the leak so far." He fanned his face with the hard copy of a repair order, presumably the one for my car.
"Let me see if I can reach my husband for a ride home then. Is there a courtesy phone I could use?"
He motioned for me to follow him, which I did, into a sales cubicle on the showroom floor. "Just dial nine to get an outside line. I’ll be back at the service desk. We’ll need your car until tomorrow afternoon."
"Thank you." I dug a paper with Mike’s job shack number on it out of my purse and dialed. Luckily, he answered, and agreed to come get me. He would use his lunch hour to drive me back for the car tomorrow.
It was a scene we would repeat the following week, when I opened the car door and again found three inches of water on the floor, costing another day and a half at the dealer and a promise of a dry car.
November brought the third and final straw in our saga of car-floods. I reported the news to Mike when he came home from work that night.
He poked his finger into the car’s rain-filled carpet, wiped it on his trousers and yelled, "What kind of assholes they got working as mechanics? Can’t fix a damn leak in two tries? I’m going down there in the morning and tell ’em what I think!" He slammed the car door shut and stormed into the house.
He sat in his favorite living room chair, removing his work boots while our Cairn Terrier pup hassled him. That softened his demeanor, and I seized the moment.
"You don’t have to waste your time on those mechanics," I said. "I’ll fix the leak myself, that is if I can clean out garage enough to get the car inside."
"How you going to fix it?" He eyed me while reaching out to scratch the dog’s head.
"I don’t know. But somehow I will—can’t do any worse than the so-called professionals, can I?" I grinned at him.
"No. I guess not."
I took the turkey baster to the car and emptied as much water as I could. The next day, I started sorting and stacking the things that had been temporarily stored in the garage when we moved in. We were always too busy with our jobs, yard chores, my art classes and Mike’s target shooting to get it done. What a glorious benefit of having quit my job—time to catch up on past due chores.
In two days I had cleared almost half of the garage, nearly enough to fit the car inside. I hired a handyman to build open shelves along a wall, and I painted them white. When dry, I stacked garden supplies, half-full paint cans, boxes of Christmas decorations and sundry other items from the floor until, at last, the car fit into the garage.
Mike apologized almost every night. "Sorry I wasn’t here to help, but you did a job to be proud of, Honey."
We took a good look at the shelves and the car finally parked inside, then turned out the lights and climbed the stairs to dinner and TV.
I spent the next day with the car. I removed the carpeting from the floor and spread it out to dry on top of stuff still occupying the other half of the garage. Dripping as much as it was on the pile of odds and ends, I knew it would take a long time to dry completely.
I inspected every surface and crevice of the car for signs of water, from the ceiling, to the dash, to the base of the side panels. I noticed a slight puffiness on the driver’s side support column, which didn’t seem to repeat on the passenger side. I wondered if the leak could be coming from the roof, running down the inside of the support column, and escaping out the bottom onto the floor.
I got the step stool from the kitchen, and began inspecting the roof—window seals, door seals, luggage rack. Even the screws that fastened the rack to the roof. I found a crooked one, installed at an angle. It appeared to me that water could indeed enter there, however slowly, drip by tiny drip and, sitting overnight in the rain for ten hours or more, might just collect three inches of water inside the car.
I wiped the area as dry as I could, then cleaned with one of the alcohol swabs Mike used to prepare for his insulin injections. When that dried, I pressed a two-by-two-inch piece of heavy-duty clear packing tape over and around it as hard as I could, especially on the edges.
Time would tell if I’d outdone the mechanics.