This Side Up

The song of the Grey Lady


“I’ve got to fit it,” I said.

“That should be the family motto,” replied Carol.

She had a good point. We’ve have lots of things that should get fixed, but somehow even though there is an endless stream of weekend projects, the list never gets shorter. But this was a situation like I’ve never encountered, and for that matter, I’ve never heard happening to anyone else.

Who hasn’t had a dishwasher that quits before completing the pumping cycle, the toaster that you have to hold down because it won’t stick, or the car that you had to park on a hill because of a dead starter. Of course, the jump start only works with a standard shift, so some of you may wonder what I’m talking about.

Some inconveniences just become acceptable, such as the bathroom door that won’t stay open. We have a brick for that, which is encased in a woven sock made for the purpose. Someday I’ll get to adjusting the hinges, but then what will we do with the brick and the cover that my daughter Diana went out of her way to find?

Then there is the desk drawer that won’t stay shut. It’s a desk from the 60s with a sliding file cabinet style drawer. With the slightest movement, just sitting at the desk will trigger it and the drawer comes rolling toward you. The solution has become a strip of cardboard taped to the frame of the drawer, like a permanent door stopper.

I don’t believe there’s such an easy remedy for the car that was my grandmother’s pride. My father kept it after she died and for all these years it’s remained in remarkably good shape with only occasional visits to Dale, the village mechanic in upstate New York who affectionately calls it the “Grey Lady.” She’s still a stately ride although the varnish on the wooden dash is cracked and the rubber lining around the doors and windows is beginning to go.

I don’t do a lot to prepare her for winter. I leave her in the garage; disconnect the battery, spread mothballs around the engine and the interior – sheets of Bounce also work to deter mice – and shove a handful of steel wool into the exhaust, another anti-rodent measure. Remembering it’s there in the spring is just as important, otherwise steel wool is shot from the car.

Still with such precautions, I’ll find acorns in the engine compartment, the work of chipmunks.

I went through the drill this spring, charging the battery and removing the packets of mothballs and, of course, the steel wool. Usually, I remove the air filter and pour a thimble of gasoline into the carburetor. This time I turned on the ignition, waited to hear the hum of the electric fuel pump Dale installed, pumped the accelerator. She cranked several times and sprang to life. I let her idle for five minutes, watching the gauges and listening for the engine to smooth out, which it did.

Now I was ready to give Carol a ride to the four corners market all of three miles away, our grand excursion.

I pulled to the side of the house and she got in. The Grey Lady purred. We were on our way. As we approached the first turn, I gripped the giant wheel and rotated it slightly clockwise. I was greeted by the horn, although I had not as much as touched the inner ring on the steering wheel. It was a short and friendly beep, an “I just wanted to say hello,” kind of welcome.

“You did that,” Carol said, when I said I hadn’t touched the horn. She didn’t believe me.

The next turn was to the left and once again there was a toot. Carol was convinced.

We laughed. How much longer would this go on? We made the next turn without a peep, but when we arrived at the bottom of the hill where a family of Amish were gathered outside their horse-drawn buggy, the Grey Lady let out a magnificent trill of beeps. The Amish were delighted, waving and smiling. As soon as we were back on the straight the horn went silent.

There was no pattern to the announcements, other than they would only occur on a turn.

Dale will hopefully know what to do. But for the moment I like hearing what the Grey Lady has to say.


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