One thing he used to ask me, my father did, was how in the world I could completely total two cars in two month's time, without the benefit of a being in a single accident. His word, benefit. I never had any response to that. What could I say? What I wanted to know but didn't voice until years later was how to figure in the added irony that one was destroyed by fire, and the other by water.
After my Jeep burned down to the lug nuts on the spare of the two-week-old Gumbo Monster Mudders I had begged for and received for my birthday, we stood together in the parking lot where the skeletal remains were towed. With little effort, he unscrewed a lug nut from the spare, sighed, and placed it in my hand. Then he said, That's about the only thing salvageable. And he sighed again.
The Jeep was charred, the interior completely gone, just some metal bits left, seat coils, the gear shift, that sort of thing. I was looking at the remains of a friend that had taken me down many roads, along a couple beaches, and through the mountains in Colorado, not to mention up and down Westheimer, to the polo club, and all over the city of Houston.
That Jeep was freedom to me. With the top off, I could be outside all the time. So, I spent my time outside and the top spent its time in a neat fold on the floor of the garage. It would have been easier perhaps if I had used that top on occasion, say, when I initially left the house each day. My routine involved curlers in my hair, and a scarf around my head to keep my hair in them when I drove. When I got to wherever I was going, I'd pull out the curlers, toss them in the glove box, run my fingers through my hair and that would be that. I cared about my hair, but not one bit about what I looked like driving around with curlers and a scarf. Not even vanity could get me to put that top on. I may have been on the fast-track to trailer park life, but I was free.
We never did figure out exactly what happened to the Jeep. Faulty wiring was the general consensus, which was followed in more repetitions than I care to recall with, Oh, Thank God you weren't driving when it happened, from Mom.
On the news that night, you could see a line of smoke twisting around what was at the time the Republic Bank Building. We were going to the beach, the boyfriend, his friend, and I. Just had to make one stop downtown at the friend's mother's office to get cash. He and I went in, the boyfriend stayed behind. Said that the damn thing just started itself up and lunged forward. Which was when he jumped out. When we were in his friend's mother's office, we could see smoke from her window. Leaning against the glass, I shouted, Oh my God my jeep's on fire! Far below us, it was moving itself up the street, without a driver but closely followed by a police car. People were standing in groups, talking and pointing. People in the office building were gathering at windows and oh-my-goshing about it. It was a big ordeal for a downtown morning.
I asked if I could use the phone, and dialed Dad's office number.
Um, Dad, you probably won't believe this, but...
We watched the evening news together that night. I remember him shaking his head when our bit came on.
The next morning, Dad handed the keys to his car over to me. It was an Oldsmobile Regency. It wasn't the Jeep but it was a great car and it only took me about two seconds to fall in love with the leather interior, adjustable seats and reliable sound system. Not to mention the smooth and quiet ride after two years in a topless jeep. Jeep? What Jeep? I slapped two bumper stickers on the Regency and made it my own. This was a different kind of heaven.