My mother and brother, between them, can probably quote more of the Western poetry canon than any other two people east of the Mississippi. They are both careful, critical readers, and are congenitally endowed with the kind of memory that puts every word read into permanent storage.
I inherited neither the familial affinity for poetry nor the savant-like memory. I can give you a few lines from “The Raven” or “Kubla Khan,” the prologue to The Canterbury Tales, or the ever-popular “Ozymandias,” and that about exhausts my repertoire. Unless you count this little Dorothy Parker ditty:
Oh life is a glorious cycle of song,
A medley of extemporania;
And love is a thing that can never go wrong;
And I am Marie of Romania.
I probably memorized it when I was twelve. That’s about the age when you’d think this was clever enough that you’d want to be able to quote it for the rest of your life. Had I had the option to forget it, I would have. But things you learn when you’re twelve have a way of enduring.
I must admit, though, that it has popped into my mind with surprising frequency over the years. Maybe not so surprising – the list of things we’d like to be true is very, very long. Men love women for their minds. Your cat cares about you. Your next book will be the bestseller. And I am Marie of Romania
Then there’s the idea, propounded by me for my entire driving life, that a car is simply a machine to get you from point A to point B. All that matters is that it does it safely and reliably.
You know the rest.
When we signed the papers to buy this house, some two years ago, we had one vehicle, and nothing says “high-minded urban sophisticate” like a sober Saab sedan. By the time we actually moved in, we’d added a truck. It’s not just any truck, though, it’s a 1970 Land Rover Series IIA. It says “high-minded urban sophisticate dabbling in rural living.”
Don’t get me wrong; the Rover is a working truck. We’ve hauled out stumps and carted stones and navigated treacherous landscapes with it, and it was always game. But, because it’s small and cute and red and old, it seemed incongruous to be doing heavy, dirty jobs with it. When we were backed up to the pile of whatever we were buying – compost, mulch, stone – and the guy in the Ford F250 pulled up next to us, it seemed like something out of Dr. Seuss had wandered onto the set of ”This Old House.”
But that’s what made it okay. Sure, we were hauling mulch, but weren’t hauling mulch for real. We were high-minded urban sophisticates, playing gardener.
And then we got a boat, and we put the Rover to work towing it. I didn’t know it at the time, but it seems our rig got a bit of a reputation. “I saw you driving down to Prince Cove,” a friend told me. She’d never seen the truck, and when I asked her how she knew it was us she looked at me incredulously. “You’re pretty recognizable, you know.” Then, when we lost our trailer wheel and stopped traffic on Route 6A, our friend Florence told us afterward that both of her kids called her, independently, to tell report that her friends were in a spot of trouble. We hadn’t even met her kids. How could they have known? I guess word gets out that there are a couple of high-minded urban sophisticates playing fisherman.
The boat is a 19-foot fiberglass center-console, and it weighs about 1500 pounds (2000 when the lobster pots are loaded onto it). The Rover weighs about 3000 pounds, and has manual steering and brakes. Because it has very low gears, it has no trouble towing the boat, but stopping it is another question. As long as you begin braking a good quarter-mile before you actually have to stop, you’re fine, but you don’t always have that luxury.
Then, when the emergency brake on the Rover started to go, and loading the boat at the ramp became a race to get the thing out of the water before the weight of the boat dragged the truck into it, we decided we had to take a radical step. As tethered as I am to the idea that my car says something – something interesting, something substantive – about me, I’m not willing to risk my life for it.
We bought a pick-up truck.
It’s a relatively small truck – a 1999 Mazda B4000 (a Ford Ranger by another name), with a six-cylinder engine and four-wheel drive. It’s equipped with a Reese class-III hitch and excellent tires, courtesy of John, the good-natured Englishman we bought it from.
We now own three vehicles, and I’ll still drive the Saab most of the time. In the summer, though, we’ll lend it to my parents, who usually rent a car for the summer, and I will drive the pick-up. In order to do this, one of two things has to happen. Either I’ll have to divorce my self-image from my vehicle, or I’ll have to come to terms with being the kind of girl who drives a pick-up.
That’s a no-brainer, I thought: I choose A. A car really is just a machine to get you from here to there, and I’m not Marie of Romania after all – I’m a high-minded urban sophisticate who happens to drive a Mazda B4000 4×4 pick-up.
Then a funny thing happened. We took the truck to Cape Feed and Supply to buy two bales of straw and a bushel of rye seed. Kevin opened the back, and I threw in the seed. Then we backed up to the loading dock and tossed in the straw, and I realized there was just no getting around it. A car is more than just a machine to get you from here to there, and I am Marie of Romania. And Marie of Romania is the kind of girl who drives a pick-up.