There she was: a 1979 MG Midget at a yard sale on the corner of Solar Road, where my fiancé Ed lived south of Montrose, Colorado. With her bright yellow paint, black top, bumpers and tires, she looked like a giant bumble bee touching down in the middle of used clothes, pots, pans, dishes, and old lawn mowers. Ed and I passed her three times going to and from his house that Sunday. On each pass, she whispered something, and finally we walked down the dirt road, answering her call, although I didn’t catch her exact words.
On the test drive up the hill heading west, she gave a throaty promise of good rides to come, but on the way down the hill, she seemed unwilling to return to her previous ignominious state. In fact, her brakes were shot. Ed geared down, scrubbing off some speed with a sharp right turn back into the yard sale, then into a skidding left onto the grassy rise where she had been previously poised among the dispossessed.
“Brakes could use some work,” the owner said, brushing the grit from our entrance from his sleeve and eyebrows. “You can get anything you want for her, right here,” he said with a big smile, brandishing a thick pile of dog-eared parts catalogs.
Let me reminisce a little. I had three sports cars with my first husband. He came with a British Racing Green Sunbeam Tiger. I remember if it rained, I had to twist around in the passenger seat to “diddle” the fuel pump into operation. Later, we bought a deep red TR6 in Amsterdam and drove it all over Europe, trying to explain in our most creative sign language and broken Spanish, German, or French that the turn signals smoked or the horn sounded when we turned on the headlights! Eventually, the wiring got straightened out, but the frame was forever bent after whatever it was they did in shipping the Triumph back to the U.S. The dark blue Fiat Spyder came last. In the end it was unfaithful to both of us.
But I loved them all joyfully, though they all became my rival in their time, their slightest hiccup a cause for concern and the eventual disappearance of my husband under the bonnets or complicated bellies. Once, years after the marriage, I recognized him across a busy street before I saw anything else but his lower leg emerging from below the door of his Porsche 911. For years, I had communicated with those legs and his disembodied voice from beneath the Tiger, the TR6, or the Spyder!
But my colorful past did not save me. This Midget called to me and I answered. I wrote the smiling owner a check, and made arrangements to tow in my new find for a brake job on Monday. Now she was mine! We headed back home, me burbling, “My cup runneth over.” I named her Buttercup.
A month later, on the summer solstice, I married Ed. Leaving the church, I climbed into Buttercup, stood on the seat, and threw my bouquet to a little group of friends behind me. As Ed drove us to our wedding reception, I waved as I thought the Queen might wave, firmly holding on to my wedding hat with my other hand. Buttercup’s taillights fell off as we left the reception for our honeymoon, so she had to stay home with the children!
Over the next year, Ed was chagrined to realize that of the few phone numbers he kept memorized—his father’s, his son’s, his work—the next was that of our local friendly mechanic, Rod! We replaced big and little parts, from the sun visor to the suspension. Buttercup ran, and then didn’t, and by October, her crankcase was spewing enough gray smoke that a woman at a stoplight rolled down her window and asked me if I knew my car was on fire!
Once again we chugged our way to Rod’s, where he later told us that the pistons and cylinders were in the worst shape of any car he had actually seen driven into his shop. The piston he saved for us looked as though it had been eaten by worms! We used it as a paperweight to hold down the growing stack of Buttercup’s repair bills.
By the following August, her engine had been rebuilt and then she was home again in time for the aspen that grace the Colorado fall. On the way to Lake City, we met the Colorado Grand event coming down the hill. We waved at the drivers of Lagondas, Bugattis, SSK Jaguars, and prewar MGs—and they waved back. We crossed Red Mountain Pass to Durango on a bluebird day, the Rocky Mountains culpable of dwarfing us even if we weren’t driving a Midget. Buttercup was in tune again, and we were in tune with Buttercup.
For Ed’s birthday, I drove him to Norwood for dinner at the Lone Cone, where a new German chef had taken residence. Buttercup crested the Dallas Divide where the mountains pushed their still-frosted peaks into brilliant blue. I watched gauges and warning lights as much as the mountains, but Buttercup kept her cool, climbing at a respectable 45 mph in third going up the pass, then gliding down with her tenacious grip—and no backfiring!
Then we were on the canyon road to Norwood, winding between pine, cottonwoods, and weathered canyon walls. The frothy green summer waters of the San Miguel traveled with us, and in the open car, I could hear, mixed with the water sounds, Buttercup’s unique reverberations echoing in the depth of the canyon road. I let her eloquent growls guide me instead of the tach as I moved through the gears. I stopped watching gauges and warning lights, shifting easily as I set up for curves until my body and Buttercup moved as one in rhythm.
And finally, in the echoes of the canyon, I heard what I couldn’t hear that first spring as she whispered, yellow and brakeless at the entrance to our road—”Shall we dance?”