Seven years ago Ray surprised me for Valentine’s Day with my sweet ride. He got a deal. Making a long story short, when we were leaving Iceland with just one very wind blown vehicle that seated 5 on a good day. We did what normal people do. We bought a van on the internet. Picked that sucker up one hot day the first of June and proceeded to drive it to Kentucky. That wasn’t seven years ago. That was like 8 years ago. It quickly became apparent that while it was a good car, an older van bought out in cyberspace might not be that reliable. Nothing happened, it just had lights that randomly flickered and switches that couldn’t be figured out. Ray took it back to the dealership and came home with my swagger wagon. I love that car as much as I could love a car.

Maybe it’s because it was purchased with no interest due and it’s paid off. I really think it’s because it reminds me just how much my husband loves me. He bought that car a few days after he heard he would be moving me back to Virginia and leaving a couple of weeks later for Iraq. He bought the 5-year warranty making sure that it would always run like a champ. It has. Until a few days ago.

On the way back from Mom’s on Monday, you could see part of the van protruding in the rear view mirror. Ray wanted me to pull over right away. I insisted on pulling over where there were potties…and snacks. We pulled in, he fiddled as only Ray can fiddle. It was all better. I do think I heard him mumble something about tape. I think I saw him head down a couple of aisles at the Bass Pro Shop later that day. I distinctly remember waiting for him while he ran into an auto parts store. He fiddles and fixes and I always assume that everything is in perfect working order. (I just used that assumed word again, didn’t I?)

So the first was Ray’s grandma’s birthday. We never do anything on time but the girls and I managed to make her some cookies and some other goodies and get them wrapped up in a box, then off to the UPS Store to ship it. I hit my handy dandy automatic door buttons and heard metal scraping metal, crunching, grinding, screeching. I was pretty sure we hadn’t been hit because the car never moved. Being the good mother that I am, I turned and accused my kids of leaving something in the doors to get jammed again. After the chorus of, “I wasn’t me and I didn’t do it!” was over, I walked around. The door was open but a small panel that sits above the main panel on the passenger side of the van was hanging precariously. Dangling might be a better description.

Try as I might, I couldn’t fix that sucker. I could get it in the right place but it wasn’t sticking. I was pretty sure I was going to totally damage the paint. It was that or faint since I was standing on asphalt in jeans and it was 97 degrees out. We carried the box in, shipped it, started the car and the AC, buckled everyone so I knew they wouldn’t run over my toe putting the car in gear and then I went to take another look. I pushed. I prodded. I clearly can’t fiddle. I stuck it back on as best I could because dangling, it was about 4 inches off the ground, close enough to hit something and do some damage.

I got back in my car and thought about my options. Ray is out of town. He loaned his truck to another sailor who is here without his family or a car. If I had his truck, I would have hightailed it home, probably only to hit a pot hole that would at the very least bend the panel, at best send un pole vaulting over I40. I did the only thing I could think of. I backed out and prepared to drive slowly to the Nissan dealership that does my service.

The girls asked where we were going. I told them the Nissan dealership. They were so excited. I couldn’t understand what part of this would be exciting. Those little boogers thought I was getting a new van. Hanan said, “You always say you aren’t getting a new one until this one is falling apart. It’s falling apart! Can we get a blue one?” I think it was at that point that I sent Ray a text that said something like “The Freaking Van in LITERALLY falling apart!” I explained to the girls that I would like to see first if it could be fixed before I locked us into a car payment.

As we were pulling off there was another awful sound. This time it was more like I had run over something… but no bump. Arleigh is yelling, “It’s down! It’s down!” Her police officer uncle would be so proud. He taught her that when she was two. I ask if they see it behind us. Hanan calmly says, “It’s hanging.” Arleigh starts to argue with her, “It’s down like on the ground theory.” Hanan smirks and says, “Look at the windows.” There is the reflection of our beautiful to me van with a big hunk hanging off of it. If I was going to cuss, now would be the time.

To the Nissan dealership we go!…slowly….We pull into the dealership. The guy is rolling his eyes. It was after 4. You know he thought I was pulling in at the last minute expecting my tires to be rotated. “Can I help you Ma’m?” “Yes, my husband is in the military (I know to throw that in) and he’s out of town. I was running errands with my kids and a panel fell off the car. I need you to take it off and give me an appointment so I can get home.” He looked at me like I had lost my mind. Then he walked out to the car. This was our conversation…

“You hit something?”
“No, I opened the door. The sound was awful and crunchy. It didn’t sound like that when it closed though.”
“You drove here like this?”
“From the UPS Store. We were running errands.”
At this point you can hear Bria yelling. Hanan is motioning that Bria is crying and Arleigh is trying to latch onto Wi-Fi from the dealership all but hanging out the window.
“Is she okay?”
“She’s fine. No nap. She’s mad that I asked you to fix it instead of buying a new one.”
The guy chuckles, asks me to hold the panel up so it won’t scratch the paint and leaves me in the sun for about 10 minutes. Next thing I know, he comes out with little clips.
“Thought you hit something but these clips are so old, they must have fallen out somewhere.”

We continue our conversation. He asks where my husband is. I get to say Vegas. The look on his face is priceless. Yep, there’s a conference there that he had to be at. This duty station is sweet! He said, “So, he’s not overseas?” I say, “Nope, we’ve been there done that. That’s why we’re in Memphis.” He just smiled and went on fixing the car.

He pops those suckers in and we were on our way. No charge.We no longer have a swagger wagon. My big old white van is now known as Humpty Dumpty. Lucky for me, the nice people at Nissan could get her back together again. There’s that and I love living in the south. The people here could not be kinder.