I knew the day was near. Nothing lasts forever. My 2010 car was making a noise. It had been a good car for ten years, braving everything from the rugged cabin lane, to Minnesota winters and the occasional family trips out west. Oh, how I would like to avoid the inescapable research for replacement and the inevitable encounter with The Car Salesman.

Before the trip to open the cabin, I made an appointment for an overall check-up and a specific search for the cause of The Noise. A grim look preceded the analysis. “I won’t let you leave town,” the mechanic said, “until you replace the sway bar links. They are both broken and will affect driving. We are booked, but here is a good place to go,” he continued while writing a name and phone number down. Gratefully, his referral could take me in the next day, leaving three days before my proposed departure. Thus began the saga of living in a small town and how Spanish came to save the day.

I walked into the service area and saw a familiar face! Chad, son of a neighbor, greeted me with a warm smile and hearty handshake. (I still test out handshakes.) They could easily fix the links, but alas, the noise was the catalytic converter. It would have been covered by insurance had it been stolen in Minneapolis, but this would cost $1,500. I could safely go to the cabin and, if I could live with the noise, no problem.

I went to the cabin. I was raised to put up with inconvenience, including noises, but, upon my return, I got serious. I was tempted to change cars back in 2020 when Mom died, leaving me her Forester LLBean Special, 2008, with 62,000 miles. Why, you ask, didn’t I keep it? I reasoned I needed the newer safety features, something I now refer to not as “Bells and Whistles” but “Shits and Giggles” – pardon me, Mom.

Here is where the Spanish kicks in.

After ten days of online searching and visits to car dealers in Maplewood, St. Cloud, and Brainerd, I sat down and cried. “I hate this stress,” I unloaded to my unsuspecting husband. “I am terrified! First, I’ve carried a lifelong angst about being a woman approaching any mechanic and especially, car salesmen! Why aren’t there saleswomen? And, this sticker shock! In the day, you could buy a house for less!” I paused to blow my nose.

At this point, he offered to go along. I declined. That wasn’t going to reroute my cellular memory and give me the confidence building experience I needed. I had to do this myself. I picked up my wish list and my courage and left for town. I’d start with the larger dealership, the one that bought my mother’s dear Subaru and promised they’d find it a good family.

I parked my car and decided to walk around first, get my bearings. One salesman was in sight, helping another customer. In a moment, he headed my way, still talking on his phone. I overheard him say, “I’m working with Kerry R. on her lease, but am here alone. Will have to get back to you.” Then, to me, “How can I help?”

“I’d like to talk to someone about my wish list,” I began, “But, did you say, Kerry R.? Is that her over there?” He nodded yes.

“She is a former student of mine. Spanish Club officer. Went to Mexico with me!” I blurted out.

He motioned for me to follow him. Kerry turned around and her face lit up. We literally walked into each other’s arms and tears filled my eyes. Good tears this time.

Oh my! How could she have three kids and what? Going to be a grandmother in July? Here to pick up her new lease car? A test drive? Did I want to go along? You mean I’m getting my wish to have a woman do the spiel? The salesman had another appointment, handed her the keys, and left us. It wasn’t exactly a joy ride, but it was joy-filled!

This was her third lease. She has known the salesman for over a decade. This is her preferred model. In the next fifteen minutes, she explained every button, nob, her preferences and why and then the car stopped. “Oh, that must be the new gas saving feature,” she supposed and touched the accelerator. Off we went, through the intersection. Then, back to the dealership where we rejoined the salesman and our conversation revealed yet another surprise.

“I was the one that sold your mom’s car,” he revealed. “It is now loved by a sixteen-year-old girl from Baxter. She and her parents were delighted!”

Kerry’s eyes twinkled. We embraced again and I made an appointment for the next day at 9:30.

I floated home on a wave of calm, trust, and the feeling that the universe has a sense of humor.

That was just the beginning.

The next morning, I handed over my wish list including maximum price and miles. Might as well let the universe know what you want and see how close you come. 

The salesman pushed his chair back and shook his head. “The car you describe is the one that Kerry is returning here at 10:30. It checks off everything on your list including miles and price.” Then he added, “I’m going to talk to the boss about a deal.” Oh, here it comes, I’m thinking . . . totally ignorant on how bargaining works, except for in Mexican markets. He left me in his cubby to contemplate.

I didn’t mention that the guy in charge of finances and the one in charge of trade-ins are (drum roll), also both former students of mine. They had greeted me with hugs, grins, and memories when I walked in. It was a reunion! It was “Car-ma” (“Car” and “Ma”) time for me. After years of pouring energy out, I was about to get back!

The owner worked out a “Teacher Deal” and the salesmen proclaimed his belief in Divine Intervention. I wasn’t prepared for either, but smiled generously. That smile turned into a grin when I walked out to her car for my test drive.

“I have to go take off the decals before I leave,” Kerry informed me as we headed to her car. “I have a favorite symbol,” she said pulling up her pant leg to show me a tattoo. There, above her ankle and there, under her front lights, behind her rearview mirrors and on the back window – were jumping for joy, smiley FROGS!

What can I say? In 2001, I led a trip of students to Spain, including a visit to my favorite, fanciful tiled Frog Fountain in Seville’s Maria Luisa Park. Ever since, students have gifted me all manner of FROGS from a Panama clay rendition on a lily pad, stuffed toys, book marks and even a “Frog Crossing” sign for my flower garden.

This had to be another sign – the universe does have a sense of humor and “Car-Ma” is a thing.