The Spitfire

For months, my 15-year-old sister has been campaigning to receive a car when she turns 16, as a birthday present. I’m dumbfounded. I’m two years older than she is and it never occurred to me (not even in my wildest dreams) to ask for a car.

Of course, my mom tries to laugh off my sister’s quest. This does little to curb the campaign.

My sister is very persistent. Every week, she scours the used car ads in the Evanston Review, our weekly home-town newspaper. One day, she happens upon an ad for a used Triumph Spitfire. Her campaign shifts into high gear. She bargains. She cajoles. She begs. Still my mom says, “No.”

My mom studied Freudian psychology at the Institute for Psychoanalysis. She believes if she gives my younger sister a car and I don’t have one, it could be interpreted as favoritism and promote sibling rivalry and discord, which is to be avoided. Financially, buying two cars is simply out of the question. My mom is a working single-parent who, after living in a rental apartment all of her adult life, finally managed to buy a condo just two years ago.

My mom thinks the equity argument will put a quick end to the campaign. My sister sees this as an opening gambit to what is now a true negotiation. My mom has stated her position. Her cards are on the table. It’s my sister’s turn to counter. My sister quickly analyzes the situation. She identifies the crux of the problem, the sticking point. This is a problem my sister knows how to solve.

“We can share the car,” she proposes.

My mom seems to find this argument compelling. She takes the bait. I’m shocked and confused, partially because I can’t believe my mom said, “Yes,” and partially because the Triumph Spitfire is a British roadster, a little convertible with stick shift. Not one of the three of us knows how to drive stick shift.

Oddly, my mom and sister don’t see this as a deterrent, but merely a bump in the road. Somehow, they manage to convince the man who owns the Spitfire to teach me how to drive the car. If I can learn to drive stick shift, we can buy the car. The pressure is on. My family is counting on me and I don’t want to let them down.

Before I know it, I find myself sitting in a chocolate-brown Triumph Spitfire, a little two-seater sports car, with a total stranger. I buckle my seatbelt and I notice that, in addition to the stick shift, there’s a third peddle, the clutch. I hadn’t anticipated an extra peddle. Using this clutch-pedal takes a lot of coordination, but I’m not all that coordinated.

“Ease off the clutch as you push the gas pedal,” the man tells me. In fits and starts, the car lurches forward and stalls out. The man is very patient; he really wants to sell the car. In other words, he wants me to drive stick as much as my sister and my mom combined. I try again. It stalls out again. I’m letting everyone down, my sister, my mom, and even the man who owns the Spitfire.

“Ease off the clutch” he coaches. “Just ease off…” Finally, I’m able to make the car go a few feet without stalling. Once I’m able to get the car moving, I have to learn to shift gears. Luckily for me, shifting gears is a whole lot easier than making the car go in the first place.

The next thing I know, I am the proud co-owner of the cutest, sexiest car I will ever drive. I love tooling around town with the top down and the wind in my hair, even if I stall out every once in a while. After a bit more practice, I’m able to drive the car well enough to teach my sister to drive it, just in time for her sixteenth birthday. Hence, our family lore celebrates the triumph of the spitfire, my sister, who knows how to dream big dreams and make her dreams come true.

Wendy K. Mages, a Professor at Mercy College, is a storyteller and educator who earned her doctorate in Human Development and Psychology at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. As a compliment to her research, she performs original stories at storytelling events and festivals in the US and abroad. Her stories appear in literary publications, such as Funny Pearls, Hearth & Coffin, The Journal of Stories in Science, Potato Soup Journal, and Young Ravens Review.   https://www.mercy.edu/directory/wendy-mages

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