Last winter, a woman with a pained look on her face told me that her car seat warmer had stopped working.
I remained calm. She’d move south and be fine. I’ve never had a bun warmer in a car I’ve owned. My family was the last owner of every car we’d ever possessed. Each one had all of its original damage, but no seat furnace. We’d tow or push a car that we needed to get rid of because it was beyond reasonable repair to a local junkyard. “Push, pull and pray” I called it. We started the engine and coasted down the drive of that business. That way, we were given $1 per year. We didn’t get $1967 for a 1967 model; we got $67. That was better than a drinking straw up the nose.
When we got a brand, new car, it was an experienced car new only to us. Mother and I sometimes sat in the parked car while my father made a stop on behalf of an ailing farm implement. We’d point out vehicles worse than ours. We didn’t do much pointing.
On the farm where my youth was spent, we had many cows, but only one car. I convinced my father that his life would be better if we lowered the ratio of cars to people in the family. He gave in, saying that we should find something reasonable. Reasonable was a family code word meaning cheap. Free was even better.
A man living in Hartland had quite a collection of derelict cars. If you’re not from Hartland, you probably don’t know where it is. If you are from Hartland, you still might not know where it is. Some of the herd of cars he’d corralled ran, but most weren’t capable of locomotion. He put used oil into his cars. He said the oil filter took out the bad parts. Because of his perceived mastery with motors, he became my go-to guy. He sold us a car that burned more oil than gas.
Years later, after my father had died, my mother bought a well-worn, 1976 Chevrolet Vega. It was on sale. Mom liked sales. The Vega was a lightweight car, tipping the scales at a little over 2,000 pounds. The base price of a new Vega in 1970 was $2,090, less than a dollar per pound of the car’s fighting weight.
The Vega was named after the brightest star in the constellation Lyra. I’ve seen Chevy Corvairs, AMC Gremlins and a Ford Pinto with a combustible reputation at classic car shoes, but no Vegas. The 1956 and 1957 Chevrolet models are common, but I’ve never seen a Vega. What made the Vega an unloved car? It was rust prone, had a delicate engine block and a barely adequate cooling system.
My mother became stuck at the end of her farm drive during an annual winter storm of the century. The National Weather Service defines a blizzard as a storm with considerable falling or blowing snow, winds exceeding 35 mph, and visibility of less than 1/4 mile for at least three hours. This blizzard was on steroids. Mom didn’t actually become stuck, but the Vega did. She tried rocking it. She rolled down the driver’s side window so she could hear the sound of spinning tires, an old trick used by those who’ve been stuck in snow before.
Mom should have called one of her sons, but she didn’t. If we’d had cellphones then, she might have called or not. She was an independent lady. Winter fosters humility, but she was prepared because she’d once attended a Girl Scout meeting.
After the Vega stalled and refused to start, Mom grabbed her sack of groceries and trudged to the house.
I called to see if she was OK. She mentioned that the Vega had turned into a snowbank with wheels. The storm raged for several days. Storms have anger issues. Each winter is a hero’s journey for Minnesotans.
By the time my brother and I’d appeared on the scene of the storm, the fierce wind had packed the car’s interior with snow. Mother had neglected to roll up her window. We cleaned the driveway enough to allow a tractor to pull the Vega to her garage. We fired up a Knipco portable heater and burned enough kerosene to thaw out the Vega.
Water ran from the car. It became even less dependable after that.
We should have left the Vega at the end of the driveway as a warning to other idlers.