Tag Archives: Ford Escort

Goodbye, Essie…

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Well, it’s official.

Essie, our beloved Ford Escort of eleven years, is in her death throes.

It’s hard to say when her downward spiral started.  That infuriating red “check engine” light came on forty thousand miles ago and just never went away, no matter how many times we took her in for a check-up, but we learned to live with it.  Over the years, she occasionally needed this or that part replaced, her brakes repaired, or her tires aligned, but it was never anything serious.  About six months ago, the lights in the dashboard went out, leaving us to guess how fast we were going anytime we traveled after dark, but it was a minor inconvenience at worst.  We were (mostly) faithful about her quarterly engine service appointments, and, in blatant denial of her Ford-ish origins, we were somehow convinced that she would keep running for years to come.

Then one day, this past fall, it happened for the first time.  Sitting at a red light, waiting to turn right, Essie shifted herself out of Drive and into Neutral.  The light turned green, I pressed on the gas pedal, and the engine revved, but we went…nowhere.  Confused, I tried again.  After an interminable four or five seconds, the engine caught and on we went, as if nothing had happened.  But we both knew that wasn’t true.  It was the first of many times she would pop out of gear, and romancing her touchy transmission back into forward motion became an artistic exercise, involving everything from running the gear shift through all the gears to restarting the engine, all while the people behind us were looking pointedly at their watches and tapping their horns.

Essie’s occasional lapses in reliability soon became frequent lapses, and we took her in to the shop, so Paul’s dad could bring her back to life as he had done so many times in the past.  His auto-mechanics class found and fixed a few problems (there is always something to fix on a Ford) and gave her back to us.  For a few days, she was fine, and we thought the problem had been solved.  Until it happened again.  And then again.  And again.

As Essie’s downshifting problem increased in frequency, we noticed a few things.  It was worse when it was cold.  Or when we were forced to brake quickly.  Or when we talked about Essie’s “little problem” anywhere within her earshot.  She’s a sensitive car.

Finally, one day on the way to church, she popped out of gear at a red light, and no amount of cajoling could get her going again.  Fortunately, after five minutes or so, our friends Jim and Alyson pulled up behind us on their way to church.  Jim hopped out to see what kind of trouble we were having, and he and Paul ended up pushing our car across three lanes of traffic, through the intersection, and onto a side road.  We knew the time had come to figure something out.

Paul’s dad recommended that we take her to see a transmission specialist, so last night we dropped her off at Rod’s Transmission and waited with baited breath for the verdict.

Today, Rod called Paul, and this is what he said:

“It’s time to start looking for a new car.”

He said that the transmission fluid was looking pretty dark, but that if he flushed it out, she’d probably stop working altogether.  He said we could probably get a few more days or weeks out of her, but not to go on any long trips.  He said some stuff about the flywheel and rpms and wear and tear.  He said something that sounded like “total transmission rebuild”.

And he definitely said “thousands of dollars to fix”.

Sorry, Essie.

So today we went to pick up our car…and we brought her home to die.

I know she’s just a car, but I’m sad.  I started remembering today how excited we were to get her back in 1999.  She had just 1300 miles on her and was practically brand new.  We got an amazing deal and I remember feeling like God had led us to the perfect car for our freshly minted family of three.  She carried both our babies safely across three states, and we took scores of road trips in her, playing games and singing out loud as we rode along with our feet up on the dashboard.  She bears the scars of spilled juice, smashed raisins, and worse in her worn-out upholstery, but she bears them with dignity.  When Caleb was three, he called her “our red race car”, and she tried her best to live up to the name.  It’s harder to say goodbye than I thought.

We’ll still drive her, of course.  We have no choice.  We’re going to buy my parents’ 2006 Honda Civic, but the plan is for my sister to drive it up here when she and her husband move in early April.  I hope Essie can hold out that long.  We always said we would drive her until she stopped moving.  Who knew she would take that so literally?

From the bottom of our hearts, Essie, we thank you.

You had a good run.

Prince Charming

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(An online friend of mine who writes a feature column in the local newspaper is doing a special on love stories to celebrate Valentine’s Day.  I was delighted when he asked me to contribute a few paragraphs about my romance with Paul.  I thought I’d post my contribution here, too.  If you’d like, use the comments to share what you love best about your Valentine!)

***

He wasn’t wearing armor or waving a banner, and his lemon yellow Oldsmobile Omega was about as far from a noble steed as you could get, so when my white knight showed up one unassuming August day in the hallowed halls of Harding University, I very nearly missed him.

Like so many single girls, I’d spent years dreaming up my own vision of Prince Charming—some impossible combination of Antonio Banderas and Atticus Finch, gorgeous and intelligent and whimsical and high-minded and mysterious and transparent and powerful and gentle and confident and humble and…and, and, and. In short, he was the perfect man.

Thankfully, he was entirely fictional. Had I ever actually met him, I’m quite certain he would have driven me crazy.

Instead, I found Paul. Or he found me. It was sort of a mutual finding, taking shape over long afternoon walks and dollar menu dates. And in the years since, my picture of Prince Charming has been gloriously remade in the image of the wonderful, stumbling, passionate, funny, amazing man that I married. He snores. He tells the same jokes over and over. He forgets to write things down in the checkbook. He gets cranky when he hasn’t eaten in a while. And when I am lying buried under a heap of worries and frustrations, he is the one who puts a strong shoulder under the pile and helps me carry it along. From his willingness to take on the tasks that I hate (like dealing with the phone company) to the spontaneous backrubs he gives when he can tell I’ve had a crazy day, everything Paul does sends the message: “We’re in this together, babe.”

Together, we specialize in laughter and finishing each other’s sentences. We play Scrabble ferociously. We fight and make up in almost the same breath, because pouting wastes precious time that would be much better spent discussing who would win in a fight between Batman and Spiderman. We go out a lot, but we’re secret homebodies, thankful when weather or cancellation or even sickness throws our plans to the wind and gifts us with a sweet night curled up on the couch in front of a movie.

“I married my best friend.” It’s inscribed on countless greeting cards and wedding invitations. It’s also written on the map of my life, the turning in the road that completely and forever changed my story. In this land, hand in hand with a real, live Prince, a two-bedroom apartment is a palace, a mud-splattered Ford Escort is a royal coach, and a Wendy’s Junior Bacon Cheeseburger is a feast.

I defy even Antonio Banderas to create that kind of magic.

Stranded

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I usually ignore those little lights on the dashboard.

Our car, a Ford Escort, was born the same year the Euro was introduced*, and is starting to show her age. I’ve decided that the “check engine” light, which has been on for the past 30,000 miles, is the automotive equivalent of arthritis. We’ve taken our beloved car to professionals, performed batteries of tests, and repaired everything from the timing belt to the oxygen sensors, but that red light just stays on. I don’t even notice it anymore.

That’s why yesterday, when the little battery-shaped icon started flickering on and off, I didn’t panic. The car seemed to be functioning at normal parameters and I knew the battery was only a year old. Still, to be on the safe side, I pulled into the NAPA parking lot on my way home from dropping Katie at school, just to have them check it out. (Side note: I love NAPA. The floor and walls and shelves are full of interesting looking parts and gizmos that I don’t understand, the air smells slightly of engine grease, and the employees are always extremely kind and helpful and not condescending at all even though I clearly don’t know a manifold from a manatee.) I told the man behind the counter about the flickering battery light, and right away he knew it was caused by one of two problems. Grabbing one of his many cool diagnostic voodoo devices, he followed me out to the car and hooked its two clips up to my battery. After studying the display for a moment, he announced, “Well, the good news is that it’s not your battery.”

In this case, the “good news” wasn’t so good. A battery costs about $50 to replace. A new alternator, on the other hand, costs closer to two hundred dollars. And a new alternator, he assured me, was what we needed. “How long have we got?” I asked. “Do I need to drive straight to a mechanic, or can I get away with shopping around for a few days?”

“Well, if you turn off your radio, heater, and headlights, you might be fine for a while. Just don’t go out of town. And ma’am? If you stop at 7-11, leave the engine running.”

Yikes.

“A while” turned out to be less than 24 hours. We had made arrangements to have my father-in-law, an auto mechanic who works near Paul’s office, take a look at the Escort this afternoon, but that wasn’t soon enough. This morning, as I was driving Paul to work (we only have the one car), our alternator commenced its death throes. First, the engine started missing. It lurched, and stalled, and lurched again, making a sickly thrumming noise all the while. We were about a mile from our destination. Then I noticed the speedometer had stopped working. Its needle was buried deep under the zero, unresponsive. Next, we lost our turn signals. I switched on the left one to take a corner, and nothing happened. We were about a block away. “You’d better drive straight to the garage,” Paul directed worriedly. “There’s no way you’re getting home in this bucket.”

In the end, the engine cut out (and this is no exaggeration) just as we were coasting into the last available parking space in front of Dad’s garage. In fact, Paul had to push us the last three feet. Talk about timing! I’m thinking it was a God thing.

While Paul went and consulted with his dad on our options (a two day wait for the proper part, most likely), I made phone calls to cancel my eye appointment and to tell Katie’s school why she wouldn’t be in attendance today. We came in from the cold and Paul’s wonderful coworkers set the kids up with some computer games to keep them busy as we tried to decide what to do. Ultimately, Dad loaned us his truck and Paul deposited the kids and I back at home, where we are marooned until such time as our old red tank is ready to roll once more.

Not exactly the best morning, but being a cup-half-full kind of girl, I’m going to count the blessings in this situation. Here they are:

*The car died right in front of the garage, not on the side of the road or in front of the school.

*Paul was with me, so I didn’t have to juggle kids with waiting for rescue and working out the car salvage details.

*We actually know what’s wrong with the car, and we have the money to fix it.

*It’s great to be related to a talented auto mechanic. Between Paul and his dad, our cars and computers always receive the best technical support.

*We didn’t have a wreck, despite having to drive our rapidly decomposing automobile on slick, icy roads.

*We might be stranded, but we’re warm and together and at home, with no place to go, just watching the snow falling, falling, falling outside.

It’s not so bad.

*1999 (You didn’t know my blog was educational, did you?)