We did not get to the Christmas parade on Saturday.
Steubenville has a really excellent Christmas parade, one you look forward to all year. I’d also been looking forward to a browse at the bookstore and a visit to the new store front that sells farmer’s market produce. It was going to be a great day, and then it wasn’t. We were in the car coming back from grocery shopping and the laundromat, intending to dump the groceries in the fridge and run down to the parade route, when another car ran a stop sign. Next thing I knew, Serendipity was on the sidewalk and the driver was ranting to the policeman that his insurance information was at home on his coffee table.
This was my third trip in a tow truck in twelve months, and I did not enjoy it.
“Just take it to my house,” I said grimly. “I know a good mechanic.”
The groceries were still cold when he parked Serendipity in front of my house. I go in the passenger door, since the driver door wouldn’t open. I tried turning her on just to see what would happen. Everything worked perfectly, except that she wouldn’t go into gear. She stayed parked and the “P N R D 1 2” on the dashboard wouldn’t light up, but another dash symbol I didn’t recognize was on. It is barely an exaggeration to say that my whole life flashed before my eyes.
Jimmy was not there the first or second time I stimmed up and down my block in a traumatized fugue state. The third time, his boy burst through the door and scampered out onto the lawn.
“Hey there,” I cried. “I was wondering if you could come take a look at my car with your daddy. I got in an accident.”
“We do accidents,” Jimmy’s boy said in a reassuring, grown-up tone. “We always do accidents! We’re very good at accidents!”
“We always do accidents, we’re very good at accidents” might be the best description I’ve ever heard of the whole course of my life.
Jimmy himself emerged just then. “Needs a tie-on!” he said before I opened my mouth. “I saw yinz as I drove by an hour ago. I could tell he ran the stop sign because of where you were on the sidewalk. Looks like you need a tie-on!”
I didn’t know what a tie-on was, but it sounded simple. Every time something goes wrong with the car, I assume the trouble is a Gordian knot, and every time he describes what it needs, it sounds perfectly simple.
“Well if you can see what you can do, we’d really appreciate it.” I turned to the boy again. “Are you coming with me to see the Christmas trees at the Carnegie museum? I’ve still got my membership card and I can get at least some of your family in free! Remember, they have dinosaurs!”
Yes, Jimmy’s boy would like to see the Christmas trees. Jimmy was planning to take his whole family anyway, so now both families could go together and save a little money on admission as my guests, just as soon as Jimmy fixed Serendipity. We shouted some tentative arrangements to meet up in Oakland together while Jimmy got his kit.
It turned out that the car did not need a tie-on. One wheel needed struts, and he got on Ebay and found the struts for me to buy at the lowest price. When they came in, probably Thursday, it would take him just a few hours to get it on and get my door back open.
“You can really get that door open?”
“Oh yeah. Body work was my specialization in college. I do stuff like this all the time. For a hundred I can go to the junkyard and find yinz a new door, but in the meanwhile I’ll get this open.”
Now I was really excited. “I tried to turn it on, but it wouldn’t go into gear and a funny light is on.”
He explained that that wasn’t anything alarming after all. Cars with keyless entry apparently have a feature that immobilizes them if they get hit. He just had to look up where the button was to reset that feature, and the car would go again.
“That’s why cops try and ram you in a car chase!” he said cheerfully.
Jimmy’s boy ran to the backyard with me, to check on the garden. I showed him the vegetable patch covered in cardboard to kill off the weeds and improve the soil. I explained that those odd raggedy cabbages were actually cauliflower, which will open up in the late spring because cauliflower takes two years instead of one. I showed him my strawberries, which are supposed to be an everbearing variety but which vexed me very much by only bearing one crop this summer. We examined the compost heap quietly rotting in that odd corner, and I reminded him that that pile of used guinea pig litter would be glorious black loam by Spring.
“What should I grow this year?” I asked him. “Will you help me plan?”
He ran back and forth across the old property line where my deceased menacing neighbor used to stalk with her German shepherd. He had grand ideas for my yard: he wanted me to dig up every single blade of grass and plant it all with food, and grow peaches on the neighbor’s abandoned property besides.
“Peaches are trees and will take a long time. But I’ve been thinking of growing a grape vine here,” I said, gesturing to the ugly cinder blocks on the side of the porch. Even as I said it I had a better idea: a vine peach, a variety of melon that tastes like a combination of a peach and a honeydew. That’s a kind of peach I could trellis near the patio, and it can even be baked into pies.
Just before he left, the boy picked a great big sprig of rosemary, the last of my herbs that hasn’t been killed by the frost.
“That’s an herb. You can cook it with chicken or use it for an air freshener,” I said.
Jimmy tucked the rosemary into his tool bag. As he left, I saw the sprig sticking out next to the wrenches, looking like a bough from a Christmas tree.
That evening, I chatted with the mother of the Baker Street Irregulars, who wanted to know what happened to Serendipity this time. Adrienne and her oldest two daughters are good friends in school now. I realized that I owed them a trip to see the Christmas trees as well, as soon as I was back on the road. There are so many children in that family that I can’t fit them all in my car, but I could make a few different trips in the next few weeks. All I’d need is gas and money for parking. It isn’t as if I don’t love the drive.
I started organizing my Christmas card list and my cookie baking projects in my head. For the Friendship Room, for Jimmy and his family, for the Baker Street Irregulars, for the teachers who have been so wonderful at the new school. So many friends to bake and make cards for.
I realized again that I have friends.
When I came to this town I’d expected to find community among the local devout Catholics, but that never worked even once. The joke around Steubenville is that there are only two kinds of people, the Townies who have always been here and the Frannies who went to or worked at Franciscan University. Townies and Frannies have as little to do with one another as possible. I was supposed to be a Frannie, and I failed miserably at being a Frannie, and the Frannies let me know it in every way they could.
I don’t exactly fit in with Townies. I have never fit in anywhere in my life. But the notion of “fitting in” seems to matter less to the Townies, and that is a relief.
I have never done anything I was supposed to do, but I am very good at accidents.
I guess there was a good reason I named my car Serendipity.
In spite of everything, just then, it felt like Christmas.