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Etched into Memory:

The Tire Change of My Youth

 

Growing up the daughter of immigrants, one would think that I heard a lot of stories having to do with the trials and tribulations of growing up in the dark Soviet era- the long lines that led to oranges or shoelaces, the empty store shelves, the rampant bureaucratic corruption. Or better yet stories from even before Soviet times, in the prehistoric pre-Soviet era where a distant relative in the countryside would chase a freshly plucked chicken down the road because she had not killed it correctly.

These types of stories were few and far between while I was growing up. Instead, at family gatherings and even as a bed time story, my father would tell story of a woman and her car. This story will go down in history as a vital part of our family’s oral tradition and I would like to share it with you today. 

It’s a simple story really.  The way that I pictured it as a child is the way that I retell it today - a beautiful, statuesque woman resembling Cindy Crawford or any other impossibly perfect supermodel, in a red miniskirt and matching high heels pulls into a service station. 

Of course, the guys manning the station are immediately distracted from their respective oil changes, tire rotations and paintless dent removal and direct their energy into the seemingly easy goal of providing much needed assistance. Visions of swooping in to save this damsel in distress probably danced through their heads. Her convertible (of course also red) is afflicted by a flat tire.  

As the vicious Chicago sun beats down on her bare neck, she unloads her spare tire and necessary supplies from the trunk and sets to work without missing a beat.  She skillfully changes the tire using long, graceful strides all the while in her high heels and without so much as chipping her perfectly manicured red nails.

In a few minutes, she is back on the road leaving the service station employees dumfounded and disappointed. But the experience did serve as a focal point at our family’s graduations, birthdays or anniversaries, my father would find the perfect moment to tell the story.

In theory, I knew how to change a tire but questioned my ability to to be as graceful as the supermodel in all red that peppered my consciousness as a little girl. So, when my own blistering hot day arrived and I was stranded on the side of the Edens, next to the construction workers who seemed to be doing more eating and hanging than repaving I was ready to impress my father.  Could I do it?

Before I had the chance to find out, the yellow Illinois Department of Transportation trucks arrived to save the day.  I wanted to be in control of my fate so I decided to pull the spare tire out of my trunk and hand it to the I-DOT professional unscrewing the bolts of my disabled rear left tire. I did so confidently and gracefully until he asked me a question.  My goal was to be as attentive and kind as possible so I put the tire down next to my car and answered that I had never had a flat tire before.

I turned back to my spare in time to see it roll into the middle of traffic and a semi-truck drive over it.  It rolled back to the exact spot I had left it with a large hole in its side.  It was my father who sent his 24-hour flatbed tow truck to rescue me and it was he who asked me if I was aware that a tire was, in fact, round?

Now, at family gatherings the perfect red girl is history and I, along with the tire that got away, am at the heart of the story.


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