The thing about miracles is that they fade over time. The more I run my fingers over the fabric of a perfect memory, wondering at the embroidery, feeling the threadcount of joy, the less color it has to offer until it becomes just another beloved quilt in the bottom of a trunk… and I start to forget that miracles exist. Until a new one falls bright-side-up in my lap.
Yesterday’s miracle started three Octobers ago…
Dan, Natalie, myself, and my prodigious baby bump had recently moved to Italy (after a summer that gave itself calluses fixing us up with miracles). We had a little apartment near Dan’s workplace but no car, so on this particular evening, we had taken a bus to the grocery store. We loaded the bottom of Natalie’s stroller with packages of diapers, cartons of milk, and a whole crate of mineral water before slinging as many bags as possible over the handles. My superhero husband shouldered the rest, and Natalie chattered two-year-old pleasantries while we made our way out of the store and up the hill to the bus stop—an endeavor that made me wonder if babies could pop out of their mothers’ straining neck muscles. Getting the loaded stroller and all our purchases onto the bus turned out to be something of a spectator sport, but at last we got ourselves settled in. Hard part over. All we had to do was relax and enjoy the ride home, albeit with the eyes of the entire bus on us crazy Americans and our menagerie of bags.
Two blocks from our stop, the bus took a hard left turn. In one dreadful moment, Natalie’s heavy-laden stroller fell over and our grocery bags flew down the aisle. Everyone on the bus let out a collective gasp and watched with various degrees of shock as Dan and I scrambled to right the stroller and comfort our terrified toddler. While I tried to balance Natalie on my massively pregnant lap feeling like the worst mother in all of human history, Dan tracked down peaches and jars of tomato sauce from under people’s seats. Any hope of dignity had fled the scene.
After making it home, checking Natalie over for bumps, and laughing a little ruefully over the whole thing, we came to a decision: We needed a car. Neither our produce nor our self-esteem could handle another bus episode like that (as if our impending Sophie weren’t reason enough), so we forked over €1000 for a rather old, rather used station wagon.
The idea from the beginning was that we would drive the car until it died and then get a better one. The clutch was already going, so it wouldn’t be long, but we expected to have all our legal paperwork and an Italian bank account within six months so we could get ourselves a proper family car. Only… the paperwork was delayed. And delayed. And then lost in a governmental black hole for two years. Meanwhile, our temporary car cheerfully zipped us around town. Okay, so one side-view mirror fell off (twice), and the other had to be held on with duct tape, and the gear shift knob tore off, and the trunk hydraulics broke, and the indoor lights didn’t turn on, and some days the hand brake wouldn’t work, and the battery had to be replaced after a harrowing experience in Rome with Rachelle, and we received dire warnings about the clutch going at a moment’s notice.
However, the car was unswervingly faithful to us and our lifestyle. It took us over ancient cobblestones, up the Dolomites, along the Amalfi Coast, through Austrian Alps, into Welsh fields. It accompanied us on countless day trips, on trains and ferries and country roads, and on our fantastically insane road trip to Ireland and back. We asked more of that car than we had any right to expect, but it always came through.
This brings us to last week when Dan finally received the document we’ve been waiting on this whole time and opened a local bank account. (Hooray! we say; also, How could that take 2½ years?!) The following afternoon, I was driving the girls home from the grocery store when the clutch started sticking, then growling and nipping and digging in its heels. It abruptly refused to go into gear anymore the moment I pulled up to our driveway. I shook for half an hour afterwards thinking of what could have happened had the car died a moment earlier and felt quite sure a divine power was looking out for us. But the miracle wasn’t quite finished yet.
We found our dream car over the weekend (at an incredible price, thanks to a dealership goof). The salesman agreed to take our old car as a trade-in, and we got the call yesterday that everything was ready for the switch. We arranged for the insurance to be changed over at 6:30; the problem was that Dan didn’t get home from his business meeting until 7. And that wasn’t the only problem. Possibly more concerning than the lack of insurance was the lack of gas in the car, and more concerning still was the stuck clutch. However, we had to get the thing to the dealership, so Dan managed to jam the car into third gear and set off into rush hour traffic. Without gas. Without insurance. Without being able to drive in anything but third and neutral.
And then the clutch bottomed out.
When Dan recounted the story to me later, I had a heart attack at this point. Rush hour traffic is brutal around here, and there are no road shoulders. Even with him talking in front of me, I was sure he had ended up in a mangled heap on some roundabout with the coverless gear shift sticking through an artery. I couldn’t look as he continued telling me how he could no longer take the car out of third or take his foot off the gas, and the engine was fighting for life in the bumper-to-bumper traffic… how he made it through the big roundabout but nearly stalled navigating the U-turn entrance to the dealership… and how the car shuddered to a final stop in the one open parking spot. A miracle.
We took our new adventuremobile out for a family joy ride later, but my thoughts were still with our old car. As I saw it, the timings of the past week could not have been coincidental, and I could feel the residual glow of the supernatural touching an otherwise mundane circumstance. It was a moment for feeling the thanks I couldn’t quite articulate. And with the texture of our experience still palpable and lush in my mind, I wished one thing above all else: that I could see the saleman’s face the moment he tries putting our old car into reverse.
Rest in peace, sweet car. You’ve earned it.
P.S. – Hello, sexy.