My heart drops— my deepest fears have come true. Like a skipping record, one thought repeats: “I have been SO CAREFUL, I have been SO CAREFUL!”

There are just some days it doesn’t pay to get out of bed—this had turned out to be one of them. From the moment I open my eyes with a start, realizing that my alarm has not gone off—turns out I had set it for 7:00 P.M., NOT A.M. (at least I would have made it up in time for Wheel of Fortune!)—I began playing a game of Beat the Clock that would last the entire day. It was now 8:50 and church started at 10:00 A.M. sharp—so I pour coffee down my throat with a funnel, I shower and dress, then hit the road for my one-hour drive to church. With coffee mug in one hand, my Bible in the other, I clear my driveway a little after 9:00. Can you say CRAZY, CRAZY FRENZY?

Sliding a Gospel CD in for a much-needed Divine Attitude Adjustment, I pull out of my Neighborhood. Because of my mad morning dash, I seize every stop light as an opportunity to swipe on some makeup as I peer into my rearview mirror. I hit the expressway thinking that—timewise, at least—I was in the clear. Until I see it—the sign every Atlanta driver dreads: Road Work Ahead. On a Sunday? Traffic grinds to a halt long before any actual construction is taking place.

Welcome to the world of Atlanta drivers. Interstate 75 has become a virtual parking lot! My pulse takes off faster than Alice’s mad hatter. I try to take a deep “cleansing” breath and crank up the volume on the CD player. Ahhhhh, sweet musical relief comes in the form of “Jesus, Take the Wheel” by Carrie Underwood. Who says God doesn’t have a sense of humor? I chuckle a bit as He snaps me back to my senses; there are much things worse in life that running a little late for church. Attitude successfully adjusted!

Though the sun is shining, I am startled by the sound of great claps of thunder. Oh no, Lord, please, not bad weather! I have recently acquired an irrational fear of being out in my car during storms. This bad weather phobia stems, not from a fear for my own personal safety—no, I am terrified for the well-being of my car. Let me assure you, it’s not quite as neurotic as it appears at first blush. This car and I have endured one doozy of a year. As that lone black storm cloud floats harmlessly away from us—thank You!—I remember it was a mere ten months ago that I purchased this car. I am a girl of logic and order, so I had done my research before I settled on this one. I gathered all the essential facts: price, resale value, mileage, and safety ratings.

By the time I finally drove my new car home, I was as excited as a teenage boy with his first Mustang—I washed and vacuumed her every week and I never parked near the other cars in a parking lot—even if it meant packing a lunch and hiking to the store’s entrance. As with all things in life, after awhile, the “newness” of the car wore off, and it became—as it should be—just a regular old, dependable means of transportation.

Ah, traffic is finally flowing again; I need to change lanes to make my way to Exit 41 on I-75. The sun is shining brightly, and my heart does a little “the weather’s good” happy dance. But, I knew that I would still have to drive like a maniac to get to the Sunday morning service on time.

To be honest, until six weeks ago, I had never considered the danger that storms pose for an automobile. Thankfully, I imagine, my cars had always been safely ensconced in a garage, out of harm’s way, during bad weather, so I had never HAD to give it much thought. That is, until six weeks ago when I went to spend a weekend with my sister, Debbie (who will from now on be referred to by her Indian name—She Who Dwells Without Covered Parking).

Deb was recovering from rotator cuff surgery on a Friday; I went to her house to tend to her for a couple of days. The pain was tremendous—and, Deb didn’t feel so hot either! I kept her arm propped up at just the right angle, cared for the incisions, and kept the pain pills flowing; all the while a drum line of visitors from our church kept the food flowing. The advantages of belonging to a small church—everyone knows you (but LOVES you anyway!), and they always arrive with platters of food at the first sign of crisis. It was on Saturday night, after the last visitor had left; I locked the doors and gave Deb her pain meds for the night—and then, the rain began.

I love a good rain—there is nothing like curling up on the couch, under a blanket with a good book and reading during a storm. However, this rainstorm took an ominous turn early—the wind was howling and the lightning was so intense, that the sky looked like noon for seconds at a time. I turned on the TV just in time to hear weather advisories for Deb’s county—tornado watches, then warnings.

Next came a sound that I will never forget. HAIL! Hail was pounding the trees, the house, the windows, and with horror of horrors, as I ran to the window to watch—MY CAR! Well, Debbie’s car, too, but that was beside the point. Golfball-size rocks of icy destruction were pummeling my car from all sides. The inhumanity of it all—this was my new car.

Crazily, I thought about taking the comforter off Deb and throwing it over the car to cushion it from the blows. I had never been in a hailstorm in my whole life; the ground covered completely in what looks like a blanket of snow—in August! If my car hadn’t been the victim of its fury, I might have been able to enjoy the remarkable site. The storm ended as quickly as it had begun. Trees were down, the power was off, we were okay—but my car…?

I later found out that the storm was one of the worst to hit that county in years, but closer to home, what I discovered that night was that it had left my car dreadfully mangled—it even took out a taillight! I was heartsick. As I surveyed the damage as best I could with a flashlight, I tried to list all of the reasons why my sister was to blame:
• The storm hit while I was at her house
• I was there because of her surgery
• She didn’t have a garage

You get the picture. My family is closer than most—always there when needed, but let us get angry or scared, and we can turn on each other like a pack of wild dogs! I have, however, long since forgiven her for the audacity of having “that kind of weather” occur at her home. An incident like that is the reason they invented auto insurance.

I submitted the claim and four weeks (and $6800.00) later my car was even better than before. The insurance company replaced and painted everything—hood, trunk, door panels, and taillights. My car looked showroom new; however, ever since that storm, I have reverted back to my hyper-vigilant car protection mode! My new mantra: “Forget diamonds, Honey—garages are a girl’s best friend!”

But, I digress...back to my maniacal Sunday Morning Indy 500. After an hour and a half drive, I am finally pulling into the church parking lot. As I open my car door, I can hear the Praise music wafting out from the little country church. Leaning across the passenger seat to grab my Bible, I manage to knock the coffee mug out of its holder and into my lap, spilling the half-filled cup of brown liquid all over my pants.

JUST GREAT! Looking for small favors at this point, I thought to myself that at least the coffee was stone cold—I’m not riddled with third degree burns. But my right leg is sopping wet! I lean over to the back seat and grab an old beach towel, dabbing ineffectively at the stains on my pants. “Late” has become a relative term at this point. Oh for goodness sake, I give up and just head for the church.

As I open the door to the sanctuary, I hope to get to my seat as unobtrusively as possible. Easier said than done. Do you remember the show “Cheers?” Everytime one of the bar’s regular patrons would walk in, he would be greeted with a shout of “Norm!” With that in mind, as I open the door, every head turns my way and whispers “Lisa.” I think the “You’re late” is implicitly implied.

As I quickly slide into “our” row, the pastor asks us to turn to Ephesians 1:1. My sister, Debbie, whispers into my ear, “You smell good.”

“Maxwell House,” I reply.

Then she leans closer and says, “Put your mascara on in the dark?”

I whisper back, “Rearview mirror, stoplights!”

As the preacher quotes the Scripture we will study today, Deb grabs a tissue from her purse, spits on it and leans toward my face. I DO NOT THINK SO!

I flashback to just about every Sunday when I was a little girl, when invariably on the steps of the church, my Mama would grab my chin in her hand and scan my face to find the tell-tale dirt on her little tomboy. She would proceed to take out a Kleenex, spit on it and swab me down. I loved my Mama, but I loathed this ritual. My seven-year-old self would try to reason with my Mama that this seemed mildly unnecessary and highly unsanitary (not in those exact words—I was only seven!). I told her that I didn’t think people should just go around spitting on other people—she reminded me that Jesus once spat in his hands, mixed it with mud and healed the blind man. I piped up, “But Mama, that was HOLY SPIT, and YOU ARE NOT JESUS!

Well, here we are—I am all grown, and my sister is trying to scrub mascara from under my eyes with the same family recipe. Two things cross my mind simultaneously—one, Debbie IS NOT MY MAMA and, two, I don’t ever recall Mama making any noise when she delicately put the Kleenex to her lips before she swiped me. My sister is making sounds over there like a truck driver (I can only imagine how much saliva she thinks is necessary to accomplish her mission). I figure it would be rude to deck her in church, so with a churning stomach, I let her finish. To be fair, I guess spit really is just the Southern woman’s equivalent of “409” or “Spray and Wash.” And now, let us pray. After the insanity of the morning, this sermon was just what my heart needed—“a word in due season.”

My Spirit refreshed, I am looking forward to our regular Sunday dinner at Debbie’s house. My sister lives just minutes from our church, and all the kids, grandkids, nieces and nephews gather there after Sunday service to reconnect with each other after a hectic week. I need to stop by Kroger and pick up a dessert or two for after supper.

Telling everyone I’ll meet them at Deb’s in about half an hour, I head to the grocery store. It’s just a couple of blocks away—I’m there in no time flat (I had plenty of practice for speedy arrivals this morning). To my dismay, it looks like everyone else had the same idea as me; the parking lot is packed. I drive up and down, row after row, trying to find an available spot. I spy one and gingerly pull my car in, trying not to get too close to the car on either side. My cell phone goes off—could I get some ice and tea bags, too? Well, sure!

Trying to make a mental grocery list, I get a shopping cart and head in. It was easy enough to find everything we needed, but the lines for checking out started at the cash registers and ended halfway down aisles 3, 5, and 7. Mercy, I am going to be a whole lot longer than 30 minutes here. I hate waiting in lines, so I try to find ways to amuse myself—either by making friends with my fellow line dwellers or by grabbing a magazine off the stand and perusing it until it’s my turn. After about 20 minutes, it’s finally my turn at the register. The ice I’m buying is a little worse for wear, but there might be some cubes left for the tea if I can hurry up and get out of here.

As the cashier rings up my stuff, I open my purse to get out my wallet. I’m rifling through it, but to no avail. I can’t find it—I empty the entire contents of my purse out onto the counter—not there. Then it hits me—I changed purses last night and I left my wallet out to write my tithe check—it’s probably still on my desk at home. SO not only do I not have any money, but I was driving all day without a license.

Frantically, I open zippers in my purse to see if there is ANY cash in there. I am now holding up the people behind me who, though patiently waiting in line until now, are looking decidedly restless and as if they might attack at any moment (I’m assuming low blood sugar from hunger, probably).

Then bless his heart, the man behind me says, “Let me get this for you.”

“Thank you, but no, I can’t let you do that,” I reply.

The elderly gentleman smiled as he leaned and whispered in my ear, “Listen, Sweetheart, you better let me. There’s rumbling in the line behind me that they are going to drag you to Frozen Foods and stone you to death with frozen New Guinea hens.” Can you say, “Clean up on aisle 13?”

How could I refuse his kind, generous offer? I thank him profusely and ask for his name and address to return the $12.46. He says, “No thanks, just pay it forward.”

Chivalry is alive and well in the South!

I grab my shopping bags and head for my car with thankfulness for a stranger’s kindness and MUCH embarrassment at my own stupidity! How could I leave the house without my wallet? Then again, how could I set my alarm for the wrong time?

While we are on a roll here, how could I knock coffee all over my new black wool pants? In addition, let’s not forget, I let my sister spit on me in church. But now, I have another dilemma—how do I get home without my driver’s license? Should I just risk it and drive myself home after dinner? I decide I’ll go ahead and drive the short distance to Debbie’s house where I can calmly collect my thoughts—then I’ll figure out my next move.

I am walking up to my car when I spot something on the back door, passenger side. Is that a scratch? Oh come on, this isn’t funny—the ONE TIME I have to park next to other cars, this happens? I drop my grocery bags to the ground, push my sunglasses on to the top of my head—just in case it was just a reflection from the lenses—and get right on top of the scratch.

Or is it a scratch? The car is covered in road dust, so—as I learned at the feet of my Mama—I spit on my fingers and rub. Oh, it’s a scratch all right. Well, not really a scratch, more like a gash…and it keeps going and going up the whole passenger side of the car.

I spit on my fingers again and rub some more. MORE SCRATCHES—some superficial, but some like they were carved into the paint. What is happening here? I just came to get tea bags and pie! Who would do this to my car?

I keep spitting and rubbing, spitting and rubbing. I am about to cry; this was deliberate. I spit one last time onto my fingers and rub the scratches traveling up the passenger side front door. Will they never end? Just then, the window on the passenger side door slowly rolls down and the man sitting in the driver’s seat looks me up and down and says, “Excuse me?”

My mind goes blank. My heart races. Time stands still. I take a breath and look more closely at the car. Close, but no cigar. This is not my car! Relief floods through me on one hand; on the other hand, for the last three minutes, I have been licking a stranger’s car.

With as much dignity as I could muster—given the day I just endured—I hold my head high, look him square in the eyes and say, “Just a few more minutes, Sir, and I’ll be finished with this side!”

I gather my shopping bags (melted ice and all), go to find my real car and think to myself, “Holy Spit!”

Lisa Love, a talented and insightful writer with a skewed sense of humor, looks for, and often finds the absurd masquerading as the mundane.

©Copyright 2008 Bridgital/SouthernReader. All rights reserved.