I didn’t know we were poor. Nobody mentioned it. All daily survival and make-do matters belonged to an adult world that did not include me…until a warm summer morning when my dad was on his way to work.
Being un-rich sometimes meant one too many cars came into our lives as a convenient stopping off place on their journey to junkyard heaven. It’s as if some keeper of rattle traps said, “Okay, you pitiful heap of rusted metal and bald tires, take a deep breath and get busy. There’s a family who needs you, for whatever time you have left.”
One of those antique has-beens was parked in our driveway. I remember it was black, and smelled a little weird, and was way older than my seven years. When my father went out the back door and waved goodbye, I was totally content to be aiming for the sky in the wonderful swing he had made for me. I couldn’t turn loose of the two strong ropes he had thrown over a sturdy limb and attached to the perfect wood seat.
I yelled, “Bye, Daddy,” and kept on pumping my small legs as I went higher and higher.
In a few minutes I noticed he hadn’t gone anywhere and had raised the hood of the old car. Mother came around from the backyard where she had been hanging wet clothes on the line, to see why he hadn’t left. He yelled for her sister to join them out by the uncooperative vehicle. My seventeen year-old Aunt Martha Ann, always full of fun and joy, lived with us while she finished school.
I smelled an impending adventure so I slowed down enough to leap out of my beloved swing and wander over to crisis-central. Back then, children were usually admonished to “run along” when anything important was happening and they might be in the way. I hung back a little pretending to be invisible, yet curious to see what was going to happen next.
“Okay girls,” Dad said to Mother and Martha Ann, “you two put your hands on the trunk and push as much as you can and I’ll push from up here and then jump in and pop the clutch and be on my way. It shouldn’t take but a minute.”
They tried his plan over and over until the two pushers were collapsed in giggles from the absurdity of two skinny ladies attempting to move a ton of stubbornly resistant automobile. Wanting to be part of the fun, I inched a little closer to the going-nowhere situation.
I offered my assistance with true innocence and sincerity. “Can I help?”
Before the expected negative response shot out of either parent’s mouth, Martha Ann shouted from the depths of her contagious laughter.
“Yeah! Come on, girl. You have muscles too.”
Dad was not too receptive to another try and was about to go in the house to call for someone to come and get him.
“But Daddy,” I begged, nearly in tears that no one thought I could participate, “it might be different this time.”
Back at the helm, so to speak, Dad told us to wait for the signal. Encouraged by two-thirds of my newly formed posse, I took my place right between my tired mother and my giggly, happy aunt who had a good time wherever she went. We assumed push-position and on the count of three gave it all we had.
Since I couldn’t see anything but the back bumper and my shoes, it was a surprise when the car began to move, and then jumped to life. He revved the motor and took off down the road, waving out the window as he sped to work.
The three of us stood still and watched as the old scrap of a car disappeared over the hill. Martha Ann couldn’t contain her exuberance. She grabbed my hands for a short hopping-dance to celebrate our success.
“See?” she laughed as she spun me around, “All we needed was a little squirt like you to give us just enough strength to make it go.”
Back in my sturdy rope swing, reaching for the clouds once again, my untried second-grader brain pondered the morning’s event. Even if I was the smallest and youngest, I had learned how team work can give hope to seemingly impossible tasks.
Two in the back, pushing hard to get my Daddy to work, just wasn’t enough power. He needed three…and I helped.
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