Car trouble spawns happy holiday memories

Posted Jan. 01, 2010, at 7:01 p.m.

Ever since my 22-year-old daughter sent me a plane ticket so I could spend the long Christmas weekend with her in Columbus, Ohio, I had been eagerly looking forward to my holiday stay with her.

Visions of her Christmas tree danced in my head, as did images of all the places we planned to visit. I longed to see the venues where her life is centered: the music school where she teaches, the Ohio Theatre where she sings in the chorus of Opera Columbus, and even the grocery store where she holds yet another job. Another more unusual object of our Christmastime attentions was to be a sizeable python bearing the unlikely name Fluffy who slithers around the herparium at the Columbus Zoo.

So it was with excitement about all of this that I greeted my daughter with a huge hug after my plane touched down in Columbus on Christmas Day. After we loaded her car with suitcases and gifts, she regaled me with plans to visit yet another enticing place, a Viennese-style cafe known as Mozart’s.

“When you walk in, you will be greeted by the scent of warm pastries, and you’ll hear the sound of a live musician playing the piano,” she said. “You’ll love the atmosphere!” she exclaimed.

As my daughter described this delightful destination, though, I found my attention straying to a strange sound that disturbed the much more immediate atmosphere. “How long has the car sounded like this?” I asked with an edge to my voice, interrupting a description of a Viennese coffee roast.

“Don’t stress!” my daughter said. “That’s just the sound of the car on the road. It has always sounded like this.”

Knowing it shouldn’t, I asked her to turn down the Christmas carol volume on the car radio and gave my full attention to the car’s noise. The grinding whir was definitely coming from one place only, the right back wheel.

I don’t know much about cars but I do know it’s not normal for a wheel to make such a racket. During the drive to her apartment, we determined we’d better get the thing looked at before we drove the car anymore.

The day after Christmas we got the bad news that the wheel bearing was shot so badly we would risk having the wheel fly off if we did not fix it. Not only would the repair cost some money but it would also necessitate our spending two days housebound with the third absorbed waiting in the garage for several hours while the repair was accomplished.

In fact, the car repair took so long that our only Christmas outings consisted of visiting uninspiring places on a nondescript strip of highway: the car garage reeking with the odor of motor oil, a Wendy’s replete with the reek of cooking grease, and a Tim Hortons restaurant where the air was thick with a burnt chemical smell resulting from someone cleaning the oven. For a change of air, and a change of pace, we also moseyed through an automotive parts emporium, where the stink of Armorall and other “fragrance”-soaked items greeted our noses.

Needless to say, in these particulars the weekend did not live up to our expectations. Nevertheless, my daughter did. That’s because she faced the disappointment with terrific aplomb. Knowing we had to prioritize repairing the car, she spent not a single moment “stressing” about the situation. Instead, she treated me to fast food with a smile that was so cheerful and steadfast that it became easy to laugh a the cheerless view, the ugly odors and even the costly car repair. Basking in her smile and relaxing in the relief of knowing she would be driving a safe car, I knew that day could not have been more memorable even if we had spent it in Vienna itself.

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