BY CHANA SHAPIRO / AJT //
My friend and I were walking into the library for a class on braided rugs when I was stopped by two women of a “certain age” – my age.
“So you’re the person who drives that car,” the woman in the long, flowing skirt and peace-sign sweater exclaimed. Her friend, wearing a “Grateful Dead” hoodie, nodded vigorously.
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“We wondered whose car that is,” she added.
“I’ve seen the two of you here before,” I acknowledged. “Now that you know me, would you rate my car good or bad?”
I was just joking; it didn’t matter what they thought. To my chagrin, I’ve discovered that the decorations on my car are not removable.
“Better than good,” they laughed in unison.
“Groovy,” the peace-sign woman added.
“I decorated it myself,” I boasted.
The woman had probably made the large macramé bag she was carrying all by herself – I myself had one like it in the ’70s. How reassuring to have my efforts at auto enhancement appreciated by someone else from that crafty era!
Later, after the library rug braiding demonstration, I headed to pick up the grandchildren at school. As I drove, I found that people were more polite than usual. Other motorists slowed down to let me pass, gave me the right of way (even when I was entering from a side street and didn’t deserve it) and frequently waved vigorously. Some even whistled.
“Atlanta’s nothing like other big cities,” I mused. “Even with all this traffic, people are so gracious and friendly!”
At a stoplight, I called my friend, Meta, to express my delight at the new affability of Atlantans.
“It’s not the people,” she said slowly, as if explaining addition to a first grader. “It’s your car.”
She continued in the same helpful vein: “It’s just simple curiosity. They’re probably slowing down because they think you’re a business. They expect to see an advertisement on the side. It’s not niceness, it’s your car.”
Nevertheless, while I was in the school carpool line, the pattern of amity continued. The school guard waved cheerily at me, and other drivers honked. One carpooling grandfather in the line, who I had always considered cold and aloof, blew me a kiss. Others caught my eye, winked and smiled.
I wanted to believe that it was about me – that my fame had spread because my picture and column appear in the Atlanta Jewish Times – but of course I was wrong. It was the car.
When the students started to come out, they pointed in my direction. Some laughed or clapped. But when I opened the rear door for my grandchildren, Miriam and Zellik burst my bubble.
“Were you in a parade?” Zellik asked innocently.
“Bubbe, this is really embarrassing,” Miriam declared honestly.
While innocence and honesty are virtues over which any grandparent would normally kvell, I wasn’t so disposed.
“The other students love this car,” I exclaimed.
“That’s because you’re not their grandmother,” Miriam explained.
“I still love you,” Zellik assured me, concerned about my wavering self-esteem. “Anyway, we’ll probably get used to it.”
In spite of their response, I magnanimously took them with me to my favorite thrift store. As we pulled into a parking space, a pony-tailed, gray-haired man in a bright tie-dyed t-shirt, striped bell-bottoms and big sandals approached us.
“Love the car!” he shouted.
Several pedestrians who heard him came over to us. I entertained the troops by crowing that I had decorated my vehicle myself, cutting every flower and polka dot individually. My car was receiving its deserved attention, and I was overjoyed that my grandchildren had witnessed the show.
“Do you know that man?” Zellik asked cautiously.
“No,” I answered. “But you see that this car is a friend-magnet!”
“He was missing a lot of teeth,” Miriam noted.
“He smelled like smoke,” Zellik added.
“He was probably a very good person,” I admonished. “You can’t tell anything about the inside from the outside.”
“I know,” Zellik nodded, “Your car doesn’t look good, but it runs fine.”
In the store, Joe, one of the managers, stopped us.
“Love the car,” he said, “Cool!”
Twenty-something Joe is very tall, has spiky purple hair, multiple piercings and a zillion tattoos. He wears lots of leather and neon, and that day was sporting lime green high-tops. He bent down to talk to Miriam and Zellik.
“Hello, little ones,” he said in his sweetest voice to two completely dazzled youngsters. “Do you love to ride in that car?”
“My Bubbe decorated it by herself,” Miriam decided to change her tune, and I sensed that Joe’s vehicle admiration might rub off on her.
“It’s old, but it’s special,” Zellik assured him – referring to the auto, I belive, and not me.
Anyway, to celebrate, I bought each of us two tie-dyed t-shirts. I showed them to Joe for evaluation.
“Far out,” he declared approvingly.
That evening, I pulled out a storage box. There under the fringed suede vest and the batik scarves was my DIY macramé shopping bag, perfect for library books and thrift store purchases.
I hear that paisley and madras are back. I’ve got to find my old hand-blocked paisley tablecloths and figure out how to make them into seat covers for my car!
Chana Shapiro is an educator, writer, editor and illustrator whose work has appeared in journals, newspapers and magazines.