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Good Car-ma


It was a case of mistaken pedal identity. The age-old accelerator versus brake puzzle.

That’s what the nice lady said as she clambered from the mid-sized SUV that had crashed through the fence moments before and was now kissing our maple tree. The woman had been a guest at our backdoor neighbors’ bunco party that evening, and backing down their driveway on a November night had become more than she bargained for. Long story short, there was a car in our yard. Its headlights sliced through the dark and drizzle and shone into our kitchen, where I had just finished loading the dishwasher.

My husband and I donned rain ponchos and headed out into the soggy, cold night. While others consoled the frazzled driver and made plans for extricating her car, I stood dumbfounded and thanked God it was eleven o’clock. My kids were tucked snugly in their beds, safe from cars flying through fences. Then I said a quick prayer of thanksgiving for our vehicle, our only one at the time, a 13-year-old Jeep Cherokee I had been cursing at earlier in the day.

When the SUV plowed through our fence, we had been a one-car family for about six months. As much as we had appreciated our old van, adulation could not sustain her. For a while, we were willing to suffer a car that couldn’t go faster than forty mph. It was a great excuse for our chronic tardiness. But then she just refused to go at all. They hauled her away on a flatbed and tears streamed down my cheeks. I took a picture of the stickered rear window for posterity.

“Why don’t you just buy a new van?” one of the girl’s friends asked when we picked her up in the Jeep for the first time. “Isn’t this your dad’s dump car?” Another inquired, as she struggled to roll down the window using the old-fashioned crank handle.

Teachable moments like these piled up. Our kids learned that owning two cars was a luxury for some families, just as a Disney vacation was, or paying someone to help with housecleaning. We adapted to being a one-car family because we had to. Bikes were tuned up for short trips to the bank, store, or library. Because Scott and I both worked at home, there was no commute to consider. No more dashing out the door, though, on the off-chance there was a meeting or errand that someone had forgotten to mention. We learned to be more considerate, more communicative — all good things, really.

Meantime, we were blessed to have family, friends, and neighbors headed in the same direction as we were. Some folks slowed down automatically as they passed our house, just in case one of us needed to jump in for a ride. It took a village to move the Schwartzkopfs – especially when the Jeep, too, was out of commission for a few days.

That rainy night in the backyard, the neighbors were desperate to have the car towed out in the wee hours. “We don’t want your girls to be traumatized when they see it in the morning,” one man suggested. I went to bed, thankful nobody was hurt. Just another teachable moment, I thought. People make mistakes. Maple trees heal.

The next morning, my inclinations were confirmed. While preparing the girls for another school day, I had tabled the entire thing: the hole in the fence; the gash in the tree; the SUV in the yard. Until Robin shuffled down the steps, still half asleep, and glanced out back.

“Yes, there’s a car in our yard,” I said flatly.

“Can we keep it?” she asked, without missing a beat. Not exactly traumatized.

A few weeks later, on Thanksgiving Friday, we went van shopping. I can’t recall feeling more grateful.

Karen Schwartzkopf has her dream job as managing editor of RFM. Wife, mother, arts and sports lover, she lives and works in the West End with her family, including husband Scott, who not coincidentally is RFM’s creative director. You can read Karen’s take on parenting her three daughters – Sam, Robin, and Lindsey, also known as the women-children – in the Editor’s Voice.
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