Life Sentences: First Car

By: Fran LoBiondo

She resurrected it twice—and forged a lasting friendship along the way.

Baby it is colder out there than my mama’s toes. Since you never knew her, I will tell you that that means: ICY.

Each night when Mom was changed out of her work clothes and hose, she would lounge on the couch and watch the news. If you happened to sit next to her, she’d slide her feet under your body to warm them up.

“Yikes, Mom!” I’d sputter, jumping three feet off the couch. “What did you do, slog through the creek before coming home? How did you get so icy?”

She’d just laugh as if we were only there to warm her feet.

“Go make me a cup of coffee, will ya?” It was freeze-dried Sanka, and kind of burnt-smelling, but if you scalded it and added a little milk, she liked it. I was too young to get why people enjoyed the taste, but I didn’t want to disappoint her. Now I do like a hot cuppa in the morning, even in summer. But I never order Sanka.

Moving on, my husband and I [recently spent time] in Virginia, celebrating our daughter’s 21st birthday. We ate, we walked, we shopped, and we hung out with Therese’s friends, and ate some more. At our first lunch at a nice old restaurant, Birthday Girl Therese announced that she’d forgotten to bring her driver’s license, and thus had to drink water. We were disappointed too, because we wanted to buy her first (wink, wink) cocktail.

On our last day we went out to brunch, and she was ready. Before the waiter could say a word, Therese whipped out her license and said, “I’ll have a mimosa, please.”

We explored the Village of Ocracoke, an historic town with mills for grain and for iron works, and many old restored buildings that held great shoppes that you will never find in a mall.

We said our goodbyes, planning to see her again at Thanksgiving.

We drove home on one of the last warm days of autumn, no traffic delays. The very next day, Therese called to say that she’d had a car accident. No one was hurt and it was clearly not her fault, but the car is probably totaled. She was rattled at first, but took it in stride.

“I hate when that happens,” I told her gently.

I was just her age when I was newly graduated and got my first job at a newspaper. My mom sent me money for a car, and I researched used cars for a good deal. It was a 1977 beige Chevy Nova with 18,000 miles on it, but it had been a company car, so it had all of the receipts. And it looked good. It wasn’t two weeks before, as I was stopped at a light, a high school kid sped right by me and, having missed his turn, plowed into the front passenger side of my new used car! He was definitely driving while impaired, but at least he stayed at the scene until his father came.

Our dear departed father, who was once an insurance adjustor, advised us if we ever got in a crash, “Don’t say anything except: ‘Is everyone okay?’ Then shut up and wait for the police.”

It was a pretty severe bummer losing that car, but although it was totaled, I decided to fix it. Two weeks later, it was as good as used. I drove that Nova all over Arizona and Utah, all the way home to Jersey, where I totaled it again going to work at the Daily Journal.

Driving from Millville on a misty January dawn, I caught a dog in my headlights crossing the road. I hit the brakes, nicked the dog, hit an icy puddle, hydroplaned, crossed into the opposite lane in the wrong direction, hit a telephone pole and came to rest against a tree.

I wasn’t injured and the dog stuck around to corroborate my alibi to the police.

I was dropped off at the Newcomb Hospital emergency room and there I sat, in a wheelchair with the winter breeze wafting through my, very fetching, open-backed hospital gown. Lin Reinke, my very first friend in Vineland, tracked me to the ER and got me released.

Again I fixed the Nova, and drove it all around South Jersey.

So because I totaled and resurrected my first car twice, I can now tell Therese that these things work out. She might even find a forever friend!