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Small Talk: Car trouble runs in the family

Most family traditions are charming. But some less so.

On her way to Oregon last week, my daughter called from outside Willows, California, to tell me, tearfully, that her car had died. In the finest family style, the car picked a thoroughly middle-of-nowhere spot to poop out.

I almost got teary-eyed with the memories it brought back. Because I always drove second-hand cars, I have experienced a lot of time pulled over by the side of the road — usually in some remote spot far from home.

It was made less painful for me because I had a dad who knew about cars and could console me and talk with whatever repair shop I ended up at, but it still blew.

I had to smile when she told me what happened and where she was. It was serious déjà vu. But still, there is no joy in having your trusty steed go belly up. For me it was usually steam billowing out of my engine. For her it was one of the many indecipherable warning lights popping on.

Does any normal person know what those weird light-up icons mean? She had to pull over anyway to get out the manual and decipher its meaning. It was the water pump.

My favorite story, however, is that one breakdown happened after taking my car in for repairs, just before a trip. They failed to tighten something on the rear axle and, well, things fell off. Love the irony.

To her credit, my child handled it, calling a half-dozen garages until she found one that could deal with her ASAP. Her delay was small and she got to the Portland Airport to meet her husband only half a day late.

The real casualty of her car trouble was one of her suitcases, left by the side of the road. It had to come out to make room for the tow guy to try some quick fixes (which didn’t work). She hopes to reclaim it on her way back down California.

Sharing a penchant for minor accidents and general driving mayhem with my girl child is not the family tradition I would have chosen to set in stone. Of course, I taught her to drive, so no real surprise there.

And she got away with many years of a well-running car because I passed down my Prius to her. The key words here are “many years.” 

We will keep patching it up, however, as long as we can. It’s our family tradition.

Jean Gillette is a freelance writer who knows what it feels like when an 18-wheeler goes by. Contact her at [email protected].