Rescue and Recovery

On Sunday morning we’re in Chitty, tracing the crust of a hayfield and peering in the woods. We aren’t bird watching or spotting local game.

We’re after a different beast.

Let’s back up a couple hours. When I woke Sunday morning, Cayden and Hadley were watching TV, Brynn was eating dog food and Martin was nowhere to be seen. The vehicles and gator were parked in view.

An hour passed. Then another. Maybe he went for a walk, I thought. A really long walk. I was getting peeved when the phone rang.

“Hi, Jo.”

“Hi, yourself.”

“Just calling to see how you are.”

“Fine. Where are you?”


I looked out the window. “Where? I don’t see you.”

“I was mowing by the creek where we take the kids.”

“And…what? Did you run out of gas?”


“Did the mower break down?”


“Is the blade bent?”

“No. But I might be a little bit stuck.”

Forty-five minutes later Martin and Maisie appeared on foot. We gathered a tow chain, ropes and kids, and set out on a teeth-rattling journey cross-country.

The kids didn’t care. Any excuse to ride in Chitty.

In the high grass near the woods we spotted the mower in it’s unnatural habitat: mired in the boggy lowland beside the creek.

Martin hooked up the chain, I fired up the mower and a few tugs from Chitty and we were out.

A happy ending, I guess. But the mower — recently tuned-up, repaired and cleaned — is a muddy mess.

From now on I vow that any new machine must be Martin-proof — fitted with a winch and tow bar.

And mud flaps.

Every Filthy Car Has Its Limit

Chitty may be pocked with dents and rust, and its seats are stuffed with thread-bare beach towels…

…but when it comes to filthy vehicles, there’s no beating the Highlander.

It’s a rolling dumpster of petrified chicken nuggets and discarded gum wrappers. Lollypop sticks and gas pump receipts.

Frankly, I’ve grown accustomed to the debris. Refuse, I can handle.

Stench, I cannot.

Around here, the farmers have been hustling to stay ahead of this wacky weather – an abrupt cessation to winter and a nose-dive into summer temperatures. Last week, daytime traffic was dominated by huge, stinky tankers, hauling liquid manure from dairy farms to nearby fields awaiting their fertilizer spritz. When they treat a field, the stench stretches for miles.

Admittedly, I smirked when an impatient tail-gater edged too close to a tanker; as the truck lurched away, a glop of manure sloshed out the top, splattering the car. I laughed. Stupid commuter.

But it wasn’t so funny when I drove through a mile of s*#t.

I don’t know what happened — whether the spray mechanism got stuck in the “on” position. Or maybe one of those tractor drivers got fed up with the hurried traffic. I like to imagine a teenager traveling from farm to field, checking the road behind him before he wickedly unleashed the spray.

Either way, on Friday I drove through the thick fecal slurry on a stretch of road. The tacky layer coated both lanes, shoulder to shoulder — a mile before it detoured into a field.

When I pulled into the carpool line at Hadley’s school, the stench hit me. The car smelled like a cow’s butt. And every kid got a whiff. They’d walk out the doors, smiling and squinting in the sunshine. And then their faces would fall and they’d wince as the stench curdled their noses.

I did not have my wallet with me, so the carwash was out. Instead at home, I enlisted Hadley in hosing down the car. The smell diminished but it stuck firm. There was too much poop under the wheel wells.

Martin couldn’t stand it, so he drove to the carwash the next day. Out went the ancient french fries and cracker crumbs. For the time being the car is startlingly free of trash. And thankfully, bovine odor too.

For the Love of Chitty

We can never get rid of our pickup Chitty.

Despite the truck’s obstinate starting. Despite the lack of seat belts.

The broken fuel gauge. The busted dials.

Take your foot off the gas and the truck idles at 10 miles per hour.

Despite all these failings…

Chitty has personality.

He’s more of a pet than a pickup truck.

“Chitty’s my favorite,” Hadley announced one day. Unprompted. “But I feel sorry for Chitty.”

I was driving our pigsy Toyota at the time. “Why?” I asked.

“Because,” she said, “the car and Big Rig make fun of Chitty. They say: ‘Nobody wants to drive you because you’re so old.'”

I had no idea that this bullying was taking place.

So today we left the gator in the barn. Martin fired up Chitty and guided him up the drive.

On these low-speed, off-road excursions we abandon all pretense of safety. Cayden and Hadley jump in the flatbed, squinting at the winter sun and feeling the wind in their hair.

Maisie perches in the cab and Martin hangs an arm out the window. And everyone is happy.

Especially Chitty.