Saturday, November 14, 2009


A strange, popping noise coming from the kitchen pulled me out of the recliner last night. I couldn't tell if it was coming from the refrigerator, the wall, or the ceiling. What I did know was that I was worried. It snowed yesterday, and I became instantly anxious about my installation of the range vent and the solatube, and whether great drops of water were cascading through the gaping holes in our roof to soak into the ceiling below. We had an awful winter last year, and many roofs in Spokane collapsed. Could the popping sound I was hearing foretell disaster? After all, we had received more than an inch of snow!

In the autumn of 1975 I drove my VW bug to Champaign, Illinois to visit my girlfriend. Exhibiting an uncharacteristic spirit of adventure, I left the interstate system behind and took blue highways back toward Minneapolis-St. Paul. In doing so I was able to drive through the rolling fields of northeast Iowa, where my dad had served his first church, and where one of my older brothers had been born. I had grown up hearing stories, both tender and terrifying, about my parents' experience in Tipton, Iowa. This was my chance to see the area for myself.

In the midst of driving through those rolling hills I detected a slight hesitation from my trusty VW. It had been tuned recently, so I wasn't too concerned. But as the miles and minutes passed, the hesitation became more obvious. My engine was missing. Just a little miss. Only occasional. Before long the occasional miss became a sputter. The car, underpowered in the first place, lost even more. Rolling hills transmogrified into soaring obstacles, and my pleasant drive became an odyssey.

In one small Iowa town I stopped at a gas station to ask for assistance. Even in Iowa, my car was recognized. "That's a foreign car." Help was not forthcoming. I am reminded of my roommate Jon's experience of seeking a mechanic in another small town when his Fiat broke down. He was told to "Call Paris, France." Apparently, unlike those in America, mechanics in France repair Italian cars.

I called a friend in St. Paul to tell them about my predicament, and then continued my ever-slower journey northward toward the Twin Cities. I was going to get home very late, if I were to get home at all. My poor VW coughed and sputtered more and more until, just south of St. Paul, it died. Despite the late hour, my friend picked me up and delivered me safely home.

Subsequent inspection revealed that the problem with the VW was easily reparable. The "points" had not been tightened correctly by the previous mechanic. Still, though the repairs were neither difficult nor expensive, my soul was scarred by the experience. For years afterward I paid obsessive attention to any perceived sputter or hesitation in any car engine. A mere cough or miss would transport me back to the menacing wilds of northern Iowa. (Cue the theme from Deliverance, or images of Mordor from Lord of the Rings.)

My silly obsessions about car engines and popping roofs make me aware of the seriousness of post-traumatic stress disorder. Unlike me, there are people who have experienced real tragedy and hardship. I feel for them. Sally pointed out an article in this morning's paper about the Army seeking more mental health support for veterans. As the light of a new day dispels my silly fears, I am conscious of those whose experiences are less trivial, and who deserve all the help they can get. Providing it would be a great way to observe Veterans' Day, don't you think?

No comments:

Post a Comment