Remember When – The Car that Hated the Smith River Bridge

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I am by nature a pretty mild-mannered person. It takes a lot to make me angry, and generally I can go with the flow when things don’t particularly go the way I’d like for them to go.  I am usually able to re-group, adjust my coordinates, and keep on moving in the direction my nose is leading me.

However, my son, Brian, reminded me of one time I wasn’t so calm. “Remember when our car got stuck on the Smith River Bridge, and we had to get out and push it across the bridge?”  What memories this brings to my mind as one time when my temper got the best of me. If it hadn’t been the third time this scenario was played out, it might not have been so memorable.

To give my readers a little background, I often said that my first husband should have been a used car dealer rather than a preacher, although he was very good at his profession. In the 24 years that we were married, however, our various driveways hosted a number of vehicles for generally short periods of time. I tried to count them once, and got confused when I got to 30, because I knew I had to count the motorcycles along with the cars. We never kept a car for long, and he was always in the market for another one. And I refused to count the bicycles – there were quite a few of them, as well. It seemed that once I got used to a car and was comfortable driving it, he would sell it or trade it in, and another car would be my form of transportation.

This leads me to my son’s statement of “remember when.” We were living in Fieldale, Virginia, a small mill town not far from Martinsville. The Smith River was one of the town’s boundaries, and we had to cross it to get almost anywhere we wanted to go. It wasn’t a big bridge – a two-lane one, and not very long.  The Smith River was small in comparison to many of the expansive rivers in our country, and not particularly wide.  But on the day my son remembers, it seemed like the bridge was a long, long one.

I was driving a car that my husband had bought from one of our church members, with the guarantee that it was a reliable car and would serve us well. He had sold my beloved Chevy Impala station wagon, with the reason that it cost too much to maintain. This new car, although it wasn’t really new, would get better gas mileage and would be more economical to drive. It was a nice little station wagon, much smaller than my Impala, and I accepted it as my new set of wheels. It was summertime when this new car came to live with us, and the kids were out of school for summer break.

The first time I drove it was to take Wade and Brian to the video store in Collinsville to rent some movies to watch. It cranked on the first try, and purred as I drove it out of the driveway. I made it almost across the Smith River Bridge when the engine died. After a few attempts to re-start it, the three of us got out of the car and pushed it onto a level spot on the shoulder. We weren’t far from home, so we walked home to tell David what had happened. I don’t remember the details, but he was able to start the car and get it back home.

The second time I took it out was almost a replay of the first. This time we made it across the bridge before it died, and I was lucky that it coasted to a safe place so we didn’t have to push it.

The third time was the charm. I was getting apprehensive about driving it out of the driveway, but David convinced me that it was in good shape, and that I wouldn’t have any problems. Wade, Brian, and I, and one of Brian’s friends, all piled into the car to go to Collinsville, probably to the video rental store again. Again, the car started on the first turn of the key, and we made it out of the driveway and onto the street. But as soon as we got fully onto the Smith River Bridge, the car sputtered and died. By this time, I was fuming. The four of us got out of the car and pushed it clear across the bridge, and left it sitting on the shoulder of the road. The walk home was not pleasant, as each step fueled my anger and frustration, while I led my little crew of car pushers back to the parsonage. It was hot and humid – summertime in southern Virginia – and I was mad.

David was in his office in our home preparing his sermon when I stormed in, slammed the keys onto his desk, and declared that I would never, ever drive that car again. It could sit on the side of the road forever as far as I was concerned. I wanted a car that I could drive, not one that I had to push to get where I was going, and he’d better see to it that he got one for me that I could trust.

It wasn’t a day later that the little station wagon was gone, and a brand new Ford Fiesta was sitting in the driveway. It never failed to make it across the Smith River Bridge, and I kept it for a couple of years, until David decided to trade it in on something different.

I never knew what happened to the little car I left on the shoulder on the other side of the bridge. I’m sure whoever owned it next got tons of exercise pushing it wherever they needed to go.

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