The first free car, and the one for which she is most known, lacked both turn signals and a back window and had done so for more than five years. In the place where a window would traditionally be located, a mildew-resistant shower curtain liner had been crudely taped and re-taped to the Jeep, not with duct tape but with a cheap knockoff that was spelled d - u - c - k. Another, unrelated window leaked copious amounts of water onto the passenger floor, which may or may not have been the cause of the rotten spot that threatened, like a trap door, to drop passengers onto the highway.
But the Jeep was gone, towed away after the entire exhaust system mysteriously disappeared, and now, quite suddenly, she was the simultaneous owner of two other free cars, a Dodge Caravan with 248,000 miles and a Volkswagen with no obvious imperfections save an ominous "check brakes" light on the dashboard and a body composed entirely of rust, with a sunroof. On the interior of the Volkswagen, absolutely nothing was wrong. And, as she remarked to the Volkswagen's donor, "it's so nice owning a car that doesn't smell like moss."
Just how a 30-year-old would come to own three different free cars over the course of six years is beyond explanation or belief, but at least part of this problem must be explained by heredity.
Her family had a long history of unreliable and even cursed vehicles, beginning with a Model T a great-grandmother drove, stuffed with Catholic children, from Minnesota to the Pacific Northwest during the Depression, and perhaps culminating in an orange one-ton truck her father won in a bet, which the children promptly named Dirty Bill, after a disliked uncle.
There was a Nova an extremely short aunt piloted blindly, as if steering a submarine. She peered between the steering wheel and dashboard, deciding to park wherever she hit something. There was a Toyota pickup with faux-shearling seat covers that may or may not have been the scene of a murder. And a Jetta, abandoned in a seaside Oregon town during a family trip, which led to a detour on a Greyhound bus that, for some reason, ended in San Luis Obispo.
From the 70s to the 90s, the family traveled, at speeds exceeding 100 mph, on the well-tended interstate highway system connecting the Northwest to the eastern reaches of Montana, flying past an untold number of dead deer, downed motorcyclists and exploded cars. "Never buy American!" one or the other always said. "Look, rocks!" the kids would say, whenever the car stopped.
The family was always moving, trying to get somewhere, but then it was always coming back. The mother, to manage a grocery store and decorate it for the annual Hawaiian Days celebration; the father, to pull dead bodies from bathtubs. The parents alternated between graveyard and swing shift.
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