Have a Better Day

I don’t need to tell you this winter was cold. You were there. Simultaneously grateful and baffled that you’re living through month-long stretch of highs below 0°F. Highs below 0°F. My car, parked in the open air stopped turning over. Each morning, it would cry as I turned the key. Wahhh Wahhh Wahhh Wahhh. On rare days, the car would start right up – say, if I ran to the grocery store for baby formula late the previous night. Other days, when school was cancelled because it was too cold to leave the house – it would cry again.

This winter, when the Cruiser’s battery would cry – I’d jump it. Daily. In the middle of that frigid spell – a couple times a day. I became expert in jump starting it. I’d open the garage door, backup the van inline with my PT Cruiser, pop the hoods on both and in 15 minutes both cars would be running. Reluctantly.

One Tuesday with a negative high, Jen loaded the baby and the preschooler in the van for preschool drop off. I hadn’t planned to leave the house. I hadn’t jump started the Cruiser. A few minutes later, Jen calls me. The van, after driving 10 blocks for preschool drop off, refuses to start.

“The Cruiser won’t start,” the worst part of me cowers.

“Can you check?”

Reluctantly. I do.

Wahhh Wahhh Wahhh Wahhh.

Another preschool parent give Jen and the baby a ride home. I find my gym backpack and look up “replace PT Cruiser battery” on YouTube. I gather up the tools to disconnect and remove the heavy, cold, dead battery from underneath a brittle, plastic air vent. Jen confirms a replacement is in stock at the nearest auto parts store – a mile away.

“Yes, they have one.”

I take a deep breath and start walking.

With each step on the styrofoam snow I think about the cold. I think about how many icebox winters I’ve lived through. How many winters my family before me has lived through. Fifty North Dakota winters. A hundred Northern Minnesota winters. I imagine the isolated, madness-inducing winters the Split Rock Lighthouse keeper families endured.

It’s deathly calm as I walk 1 mile on a plowed road. I’m not concerned about having enough food to last the winter. I’m not concerned about keeping the house warm enough. I’m not concerned about the kids clothing being warm enough. I’m not concerned about paying for the car battery.

“Hi, my wife called about the PT Cruiser battery,” I say through fogged up glasses to the blur behind the counter.

“Yes, here it is.”

It seems heavier than the dead one. I pull and stretch the backpack around it. The weathered, retired man behind the register hands me a receipt and a, “Have a better day,” as I heave the battery-laden backpack on.

I smile, take a deep breath of warm air, and head out the door.

As I walk back, I visualize my plan; install the new battery in the Cruiser, drive it to the van, jump start the van. Then what? Three steps ahead is as far as I seem to be able to think in this stubborn cold. Ten minutes later, Success! I’ve reached the end of my plan – 2 running vehicles. Still just one me – 10 blocks from home.

The new plan: drive each vehicle 2 blocks, park it, run back to the other vehicle, start it up and drive it 2 blocks past the other vehicle. Repeat until both cars are in the driveway.

I start with the van. Driving it from Lowry to 27th. Then jump out and run back to Lowry for the Cruiser. I underestimated the feeling of helpless, anxious, panic in the moment before the engine turns over. Though it confidently does. I drive it from Lowry to 29th. Then back to 27th for the van. Again the helpless, anxious, panic just before it startup. Then. From 27th to 30th, and back to 29th for the Cruiser – which I take all the way home. Then back for the van. Breathless and chilled, I drove the van into the driveway just in time for preschool pick-up.

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