I bought an old ’67 Volvo Sedan for $75.00. It belonged to a fella dock mate at the Berkeley Marina, a Pagan witch named Eldrie, who lived on our former boat, the Desiderata. Eldrie had, since I’d last seen her, installed ceramic caps on her eye teeth sharpened like canines: vampire fangs. To this day, she remains the best spontaneous story teller I have ever heard.
Gathered late one night around a Beltane bonfire, Eldrie reluctantly channeled a small poem, or so we thought. Eventually, however, what unfolded, meagerly coaxed from her lips one line at a time, was a 25 stanza epic. Leading us to believe the story was over with each turn; we’d applaud and move our attention to the next storyteller. Eldrie would intercept and recapture us in her web, retrieving our attentions while adding the next stanza, better than the first, strained yet luring us one after the other, deeper into her story, making us want more with each breath she drew, inspiring the next string of words. Excitement filled the air until we begged for more of her poetic Elizabethan tale of love, betrayal, confusion, trickery, magic, sin and redemption. By the end, we all jumped to our feet in applause, pounding the air with our fists, hooting and screaming like a bunch of wild Pagans, …because we were… wild Pagans.
When I once again bumped into Eldrie on E-dock, I was surprised she‘d just moved from the 40 Pagan acres known as Annwyn behind Fetzer Vineyards in Calpella. She told me she was selling her old Volvo, “Martha, Daughter of Yahweta, Mother of the Sea.”
“Martha has a big heart,” she said. “Her engine runs good; trouble might be something with the clutch or transmission, though. Things are starting to go on Martha and I don’t have the energy to keep her going now that I’m a city mouse and don’t have my country mouse mechanic around.” Eldrie handed me her car keys, telling me Martha hadn’t been started in a loooong time. It was then that Eldire left on foot to have one of her fangs reshaped.
It took another dock mate, Barb, to start Martha. A great Volvo mechanic with a love of twin carbs, Barb’s mechanic’s motto was “Leave No Engine Unturned.” The fuel line needed a prime. We gave her a kicker. She gulped and started. I pulled the choke out a bit, stepped from the car, stood at the gaping mouth of her engine as Martha sang a song like nothing I’d ever heard before from a car. She had a hum that sounded vaguely like a Tibetan bowl. Barb and I put our hands on the engine without a word, feeling the vibration as we listened. “I’ve never heard an engine do that,” I said. “Any engine.” Barb caught my eye; I hers. I said, “Eldrie… It’s Eldrie’s car, remember. Strange could be regular.”
We let her warm up and then took her for a spin around the Marina. The song ended the minute we put her in gear and rolled.
It wasn’t until thousands of miles and several years later, that Martha died at the peak of the hill south of Mendo-Coast’s Mote Creek. I coasted to the side of the road, attempting to roll into place under the shade of a roadside cypress. Oddly, I could hear footsteps running behind me. A stranger came to our assistance, augmenting momentum by pushing her off-road into place. Small world, the guy was from Calpella and recognized Martha, thinking I was Eldrie whom he knew; so he came to our rescue. After thanking him and bidding farewell, I sat back in the driver’s seat assessing my next move when I noticed my ten-year-old daughter, Ruby, sitting silently next to me, big-eyed with the realization that our old car had finally died for good. I reassured her we were so near town, it’d be easy finding a ride back with someone familiar. Ruby had poor balance, leaving her pretty unathletic. I assessed the “hike” ahead of us.
My girl was born with a congenital health condition which affected every facet of our lives. Although she was intelligent, humorous, and high-functioning, I threw out expectation with the bath water each day. It improved my parenting skills tremendously, living one day at a time. Strangely, it can be awfully freeing knowing there is no promise of tomorrow. Often I let her run the show, because she was thoughtful and kind about it. She made it fun. We respected each other.
On this day it would be her balance which she’d need for our walk back to town. I looked at her little feet and noticed she had dressed in her dreaded clip-clop high heels. Previous to this day, I’d looked at them as an odd form of physical therapy. To complete the ensemble, she chose an antique heavy floor-length pink satin lingerie fashionably belted at the waist, and a turn of the century seal fur jacket with matching muff/purse clutched in her lap. I smiled at her appearance, so well assembled. Ruby never went out without “dressing.” Lipstick never outside the line of her thin rosebud lips, her motto, “When you’ve got somethin’ really important to say, nothing gets it across like a lot of RED lipstick!”
I return my gaze to her high heels and consider the possibilities. More than the break-down of the car, I agonize how to deal with those clip-clop heels on Highway One. I imagine the sound of their hollow plastic clacking on the rough pavement, and wince.
Ruby could easily read my mind. She knew what I was thinking. Without either of us uttering a word, I noticed her wee chubby toes curling, clutching those darned clip-clops tight to her little feet. She and I, already at silent war over jettison of her high heels, we find ourselves once again at the cross-roads of reality vs. denial in an emergency situation, regarding the functionality of her footwear, this time on our rugged Pacific Coast Highway. We’ve had this discussion before. Even though it sounds like she was dressed up “princess style,” we didn’t use the word in our home. In fact, she referred to princesses whom she endured as, “the p-word”. Ruby simply had a classic sense of style, starting with the way she assembled herself each day.
I tender my suggestion with the kindest of ease, hoping she wouldn’t take offense. It is my hope she will see the reality of our situation and make her own sensible decision to leave her high heels behind with our dead car. I open by saying, “It’s at a time like this that I wish you had a decent pair of walking shoes in one of your bags for just such occasions.”
She responds, “I know.” Somberly, we look at her high-heeled tootsies. I sigh. Ruby reaches for my hand in friendly reassurance hoping for a piggy-back ride out of here. Then she looks beyond her feet to see her plastic Burkies on the floor of the car. “Look, Mom! My Burkies!” she cries. Like water in a dry dessert lake bed; relief! She shucked the clip-clops and stood there in her little plastic Burkies outside the car; her satin dress, 1940’s crystal ear rings sparkling in the sun, seal fur coat with muff, hair, and all billowing in the wind corridor through the hollow of Mote Creek. Ruby… always so vintage classic, I thought to myself. Especially in the wind – She gave me gratitude. She’s so unlike so many other kids her age who’d be wearing a decent pair of walking shoes at a time like this. We were, after all, only on our way to Surf Super for groceries.
We walked down the narrow roadway with no shoulder; just the brown ditch where Cal-Trans usually sprays weeds. “Don’t walk there,” I say. “Looks like they’ve sprayed. Could just be that time of year, though. To be sure, don’t go there.” She searches for a safe place to walk, seeing nothing but a ditch with no shoulder. I say, “Walk right on the white line on the edge of the pavement, Ruby. That’s the only place to walk. There’s no room anywhere else until we get to the bottom of Mote Creek.”
She improvised by sticking out her little thumb. She loved to engage her hitch-hiking thumb whenever we walked up from Arena Cove. Once a local fisherman saw her stubby bit of a thumb, stopped and gave us a ride in the bed of his pick-up truck. We hopped in and laid down, face up to the sky, until we got to Highway One. She was thrilled with the idea that she had commandeered a ride for us. She beamed pride as we bounced up the road counting clouds.
Ruby began to weep as we walked away from Martha, now road kill at the top of Whiskey Shoals. She was sad to lose Martha, and didn’t want to let the car go. She always grieved collectively when anything died. Every dead kitty, bird or rodent we ever had, became like yesterday’s experience to be lived all over again, in one fresh moment. I tell her Martha was an old car and had a good long life as Volvos go. She had over 400,000 miles on the original engine! You can’t beat that! “It’ll be okay,” I tell her. “We need to get a new car anyway. Maybe a newer Volvo for the next 400,000 miles!”
As we neared the bottom of Mote Creek, a pick-up slowed behind us. It was our friend George and his dog Moussa. Ruby, dramatic when it mattered most, screamed, “My prayers have been answered!” George pulled over at Mote Creek turnout and gave us a ride back to town.
The next morning, we awakened and Ruby had herself all ready for school 45 minutes early. She seemed preoccupied. I lay in bed trying to get the sleep out of my eyes. She waited a few moments before she hesitantly mentioned that her favorite non-school footwear at the moment, the clip-clops, were still in Martha. Can I, especially, retrieve them for her when I tow Martha from Mote Creek, she asked?
From bed I viewed the top half of her body as she pulled accessories from various parts of her room. She seemed appropriately dressed for school, but while I could hear the ominous clomping of her unfortunate sounding footwear on the linoleum floor, I couldn’t see her choice for the day. “Are you wearing a decent pair of walking shoes today, per chance,” I ask? It had become a running joke with her – the decent shoe routine. “It’s P.E. day.” I rise up out of bed. We look at her feet. White mid-calf cowgirl boots with slick plastic soles, blue glitter inserts like angel wings. “Can you run in those,” I ask? …” without hurting yourself?” She leaves the room.
I hear her brushing her teeth in the bathroom as she talks through rinsing, “Mama, I don’t wanta hurt your feelings, but somebody’s gotta tell ya. You’re losin’ your 'fashion." All you wear is that Point Arena layered look, which according to pictures up at that school, has stayed the same for the last 100 years in this town: jeans, plaid shirt, several layers of tee-shirts under that, optional hoodie, and that decent pair of walking shoes you’re always so worried about! You need to get your fashion back! I recommend you start with a new sense of style.” She kissed me on on the cheek and told me the bathroom was all mine.