Finally thankful for the lesson

Published 10:42 pm Friday, May 27, 2011

In my family, before you get the privilege of having a car you have to learn how to take care of it, even if your car was a station wagon that was older than you and threatened to fall apart during a slight breeze.

This means that not only do I know how to fill up my gas tank and replace my windshield wipers — the basics everyone should know — but I also know how to give my car an oil change and how to change a flat tire.

I remember the first time my stepdad showed me what he said was one of the most important things a car owner should know.

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It was mid-May in Virginia, so it was hot and sticky.The lug nuts were too tight, so I literally had to jump up and down on the lug wrench to loosen them. And the tire had seemingly welded itself to the axle, so I almost didn’t get the sucker off. After all that, I had to get the tire back on and do it all over again.

And did I mention that all this took place on the surface of the sun?

OK, maybe it wasn’t quite that hot out, but I did get a sunburn. The whole experience made me angry at my stepfather for making me do all that, just like every teenager gets angry when she is forced to do something responsible.

I, of course, recovered from that day with a knowledge of how to change my tire and no real need to do so.

Until Thursday, that is.

It was a hot, sticky day in mid-May in Virginia and I was on my way to Suffolk to work just like every Thursday. And then I heard the noise that every driver dreads hearing: thunk, thunk, thunk, thunk.

At first I didn’t even recognize the noise. I was passing a tractor trailer at the time and just assumed it was a loud truck.

Then I realized I had a flat tire. I panicked for half a second and then my memory kicked in and I calmly pulled over, flipped on my emergency flashers and took a deep breath, readying myself for the task that lay ahead.

I stepped out of my car onto the surface of the sun and smiled. The day was just like the day my stepfather made me practice changing my tire. And despite that fact that it had been about nine years — almost to the day — and I had a different, newer car, I knew I would be able to do this.

The experience went off without a hitch, except for an issue with my car’s jack, and despite my original panicked reaction, I managed to surprise even myself, as well as the VDOT personnel who offered to help. I respectfully declined their offer to prove to myself that I could change my own tire.

I came away from the ordeal with really dirty hands, a sense of accomplishment and some newfound gratitude for the effort my stepfather put in to teach me an important lesson all those years ago.