I was painfully reminded this week of a long-standing truth that I had all but forgotten. Cars break down. They break down at the most inopportune times, too.
That loud sound you hear is me knocking on wood as I make a statement that I should never dare to make. I have had good luck with automobiles lately. I know. I know. I should never have put that in print because I am sure that all five of the cars for which I am responsible are about to go slap haywire.
Isn't that a heck of a note? I was raised in a house that had four rooms and now I own five automobiles. It's a great country, isn't it? The fact of the matter is that the Huckaby family is just about car poor -- and has been for a while now. If you are out there and have several children, none of whom have attained a driver's license yet, be careful. If you put that first child in a car you are establishing a precedent that will be hard to break with the next child -- and the next.
When I was a kid we had a family car -- usually a used Buick. I got my first car when I graduated from college and bought it. It was a dandy, too. A 2-year-old Monte Carlo with swivel seats and 87,000 miles that Mike Lassiter had put on it. They were probably pretty rough miles, but not as rough as the ones I would put on it over the next four years.
Honesty compels me to admit that my mother and I did share a ride for a couple of years -- a five-speed Opel Kadett which was destroyed late one night on the road from Macon to Jackson -- but that's another story for another day.
Our old used Buicks used to break down quite often. Every time we headed for Florida -- which was about once a year -- the car would overheat. I can't remember a time we went on vacation without having to replace a radiator hose or a fan belt or a water pump. It was just expected. In those pre-cellphone days my daddy wouldn't dare stop too far from a filling station -- they doubled as garages in those days -- and if steam started pouring out from under the hood, he simply drove faster, insisting that the rushing air would help "cool the car down."
Naturally that technique didn't work very well and we were left on the side of the road in some of the most isolated stretches of road on the Coastal Plain.
As I said, we have been pretty lucky lately. Most of our cars are in pretty good shape and if something goes wrong there are usually enough gauges and warning lights to warn us ahead of time and I can get the vehicle to the shop and nip the problem in the bud.
This week my luck ran out. My daughter, Jenna, had made a rare appearance at home over the weekend. She didn't want to, understand. We had a family emergency. Monday morning she was rushing back to the Classic City, determined to make her 11 o'clock class. Thank goodness she didn't head out at midnight on Sunday, which is her custom.
At 9:45 Monday my cellphone rang. It was Jenna. I answered anyway.
Her 1999 Toyota had finally bitten the dust. It was dead. Kaput. The four quarts of oil her grandfather had put in the car 30 minutes earlier was all gone and the engine was clanging like an unhappy audience at the gong show.
Yeah. Four quarts of oil. That might have been a tip-off that something was wrong with the car -- that and her boyfriend Jonathan's admission that the car had made a really loud clanging noise as he drove it from Athens to Conyers the day before.
I'm glad we have smart kids at the University of Georgia.
So there she was on the side of the road. Well, actually she wasn't on the side of the road. She must have inherited some of her Granddaddy Huckaby's genes because the louder the engine clanged the faster she drove, hoping to arrive in civilization before the car expired -- which she did, so thank God for small favors, right?
I called my trusty mechanic and sold him the car, which we lovingly call Crash-mobile II, for 150 bucks, minus towing charges. Now our family heirloom sleeps with the fishes and I am in search of a cheap car that runs good. I have been told there is no such thing, but I am an optimist.
Meanwhile, if you are driving around Athens and see a really pretty bright-eyed barefoot blonde standing by the road with her thumb stuck out, please give Jenna Boo a lift for me. And if anyone knows where I can find a 1969 Opel Kadett with low mileage, I am all ears.
Darrell Huckaby is a local educator and author. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. For past columns, visit www.rockdalecitizen.com or www.newtoncitizen.com.