In a dress shop in Anacortes, WA last week, I overheard the salesgirl say, “Oh! It’s about to start!” It was Homecoming Week and the parade was due to begin near the shop and make its way through town.
We all spilled out onto the sidewalk to watch the classic, small(ish) town America homecoming parade, all banners and bass drums, streamers and tossed candy. I felt terrible for the pretty girls in the homecoming court, freezing to death in their formal gowns. Much better to be a band geek in the Northwest in September, if only for the opportunity to wear pants this time of year.
Seeing the hometown parade reminded me of a story. You will laugh. But it will be at my expense. That’s okay. I can take it.
I was a junior in high school. I had my first car: a VW Bug from the late 60s, I believe. Somewhere in my life, I had seen one of these cars and had decided it was the only car for me. This was before Volkswagen came out with the new Beetles, mind you. This was 1996 and there was only one kind of Beetle available at the time: an old one.
We found a red Bug advertised in a nearby town. We negotiated to a good price, and with some help from Mom, I got my dream car. It’s still a point of pride that I learned how to drive a stick shift in a vintage VW bug with transmission issues. After that, I can drive anything. The car was procured just before school started, so I was busy that summer cleaning it, getting things fixed, etc. I even got a homecoming date out of the deal. The family that sold us the car, there was a cute son about my age. I forget his name, but he was blonde and seemed cool and he was from another town, which was like, super-duper cool. I asked him if he’d be my date to homecoming and he said yes! I felt on top of the world.
In small town Iowa, the windows of the shops in the town square get painted with murals of rival death and home team victory and you can get prize money for painting the best window. It’s a really a big deal. We also paint our cars for the homecoming parade. Basically, there’s a lot of painting stuff; also, toilet paper is on everything. That year, it was obvious to my friends and me that we had to paint my awesome VW Bug and win first place. My bestie, Leia, is an incredible artist and she painted this slobbering, ferocious-looking husky (go Huskies!!) on the front hood that put all the other painted Ford Escorts and Geo Metros to shame.
Indeed, we won 1st place. Which meant we got $50 bucks — and more importantly, we were to be featured in the big parade.
Parade Day came. The sun was hot. The crowds were thick. Leia, our other bestie Annie, and my crush — not my homecoming date but the guy I really, really liked from jazz choir — and I were in the car. We lined up for the parade. The parade began. And my car began to break.
It kept stalling. It wasn’t me. I was driving that car as well as I knew how and okay, maybe there was a trick to it, or a “sweet spot” I hadn’t yet found, but the car refused to cooperate. The engine would engage, we’d go a half a block, and then “cha-CHUNG-CHUNG-CHACK.” Dead. Stop. Stall. Over and over. Smoke began to come from somewhere underneath the car. Everyone was sweating, but I was truly losing my nerves, silently, horribly. It was funny at first. Then it was hell. We were a clown car. We were a rolling, stalling, smoking clown car with a dog painted on the hood. I’m amazed my friends did not open the doors and run away before anyone recognized them. Their loyalty is touching.
It goes without saying that any chance I had that day of landing a smooch with my crush was as likely as my Bug suddenly growing a V6 engine and a GPS. It was so over. I looked like such a loser. I somehow maneuvered my car off the parade route and into a parking spot. I do think my friends (and certainly my crush) took off at that point. The car had died in a major way that day and the repairs it proved to need far exceeded my budget. We sold it not long after and I got a Honda CR-X that actually moved people from Point A to Point B without making me want to crawl into a large hole in the ground and never, ever come out.
The homecoming date with the guy who sold me the lemon was — wait for it — a little sour, too, but it could’ve been so sweet! He turned out to be very shy and I didn’t want to be too bold, so I didn’t tell him he could’ve kissed me. He sorta tried when he dropped me off at the end of the night, but then he sorta balked and I balked, and it just didn’t happen. He didn’t even know about the parade!
Sometimes, when people ask me for my autograph or stop me at a big quilt show and want a picture, I am amazed. I have, and always will be, a huge nerd with smoke coming out of my car. Always.