On a Treadmill Going Backward, my Direct Care Alliance blog post about how hard it is to get by on a home care worker’s wages, is developing a life of its own.
Right after it was published, Steve Farnham of the Aroostock Area Agency on Aging asked permission to give copies to legislators and legislative candidates “to support an effort to increase wages and promote benefits for direct care workers in Maine.” The Maine Peoples Alliance asked me to read the essay on their Town Hall telecommunication system last month—to about 10,000 people! On Labor Day I gave a copy to Mike Michaud, who is running for governor of Maine. And I will be reading the story at the Kennebec Valley Organization’s Candidate night on September 18.
Meanwhile, Jack Hayes, who read and commented on my blog post, was inspired to offer me the most amazing gift.
The supermoon was hanging low and large in the sky when I saw the e-mail offering me a green Chevy Prizm—the car I now call my Supermoon Greenie—for a dollar. My mouth dropped open so wide I thought I might need duct tape to close it.
This “payment” for one of my pieces makes it official, I thought: I am now a writer! My relatives on both sides of the family have always been blue-collar factory workers, farmers, lumbermen, carpenters, and homemakers. All their creative impulses were channeled through crafts. The first clue that I might have a different future occurred when a neighbor called on my family and saw me with a book in my hand when I was two years old. The man told my mother, “She is going to be a scholar.” And sure enough, my lifelong passion for the liberal arts has always been a magnet for me.
My next thought was gratitude to the gracious couple, who had decided to give me the car she had been driving. Jack was in my writing class back in 2008 at the University of Southern Maine, and I have been sending him my stories ever since. I couldn’t remember what my friend looked like, but I was very familiar with his humorous, creative writing style. He can make a point come across just with a few words and some bold capital letters.
The gift of the Supermoon Greenie transformed my world for two weeks. First there was the “Wow!” and the preoccupation with this wonderful gift I was about to receive. The car had no rust, no dents, and new Firestone tires. It was clean inside and out, and the green paint job on the outside was just two years old. Better yet, it would save me money. A half a tank of gas cost just $18 in the Greenie, while that same half a tank of gas cost $35 in the 1997 Saab I’ve been driving. The insurance is lower too, and my mechanic told me the Greenie is easier to work on and order parts for. I just changed the alternator belt for $75, and the Saab’s repair bill was $202 in 2004. In the future, used parts for the Saab would be difficult to find and I might have to get them from Sweden, while parts for the Greenie would be easy to come by.
Then the day came. The Mrs. drove into my driveway, followed by my friend. His warm Irish greeting made me feel even more special. I invited them in to do the paper transaction and then went to my Chock Full o’ Nuts Coffee can in the refrigerator to get a dollar’s worth of change. The informal ceremony of handing over the car keys was very emotional for us all.
I will never forget this kind couple and their generosity toward me. When is the turning point in becoming a friend? At which moment in time did we cross that line? Was it our wonderful meetings in writing class, or did a story sent through the wire pull at the heartstrings of these two good people? Life has a rich way of surprising us with the wonder and depth of the friendships we make.
The challenges began after they left. What about the insurance and license plates? I had no budget for these extra expenses. I postponed paying the rent to buy them, going through the motions as if I had all the money I needed pouring out of my pocket. At least I didn’t have to inspect the car, change the oil, or put gas in the full tank — another gift from Jack and his wife.
Now it was legal, but I was sick at the thought of driving it. The Supermoon Greenie is a stick shift, and I hadn’t driven a stick shift in years. It was like a horse waiting to be ridden.
Some driving schools, I learned, will not teach older people to drive. Luckily, I was able to find a driving instructor to help me unlock the door and adjust myself into the Greenie. I focused on following my instructor’s directions, allowing myself to be vulnerable. I had always been very aware of the distractions inside my Saab, but the Greenie made me conscious of a whole new worlds of wonders outside the car, including the grade of the incline I was climbing and who was behind me at a stop that I might bump into as I engaged the gears when the light turned green.
There was a lesson to learn with every intersection. Practice was the secret to getting out of my driveway and learning to cruise in a city of hills. Eventually, my feet were able to hold the car with the clutch and throttle just like the old days. It came back like riding a bike, just as people had told me it would.
Soon I will be driving the Supermoon Greenie to work, the laundromat, the grocery store, the library, the park. Who knows? Maybe I’ll even take a trip to another town. I can rarely afford to buy gas just for a pleasure trip, but new things seem possible in my new car.