When I met my husband, Frank, in 1994, he lived in a house in Austin, Texas with a large two-car garage. I was relegated to parking in the driveway, and at first didn't question it. One day, I wandered into the garage and found out his secret: parked inside was a decrepit, faded metallic blue 1981 Toyota Corolla that was taking up the half of the garage not occupied by his company-issued Ford Taurus. The Taurus was brand new, cobalt blue and was shaped like a jelly bean on wheels. The Corolla was all rusty sharp-edges, like some 7th grader's metal shop project gone terribly wrong. The upholstery was ripped and faded, and windows that didn't seem to roll up all the way.
I asked my then-boyfriend-future-husband about this relic in the garage, and the conversation went something like this:
Me: What's up with the rust-bucket in the garage?
Him: What are you talking about?
Me: The old car?
Him: You mean my Corolla?
Me: I guess so. What's it doing in there?
Him: That's the car I bought when I graduated from college. I brought it with me from California.
Him: Because I might need it.
Me: Don't you have a company car?
Him: Yes, but it's a leased car. I don't own it. The Corolla is the first car I ever owned. I used my college graduation money to buy it. (Wistfully) I've driven it all over the west in that car. Back when I was a poor grad student doing photography workshops, I used to drive it out into the desert and camp in it. I took a photo at Eureka Dunes that Ansel Adams himself told me was beautiful. We've been through a lot, that car and me.
Me: That's all very nice, but don't you think it's time you sold it? I mean, you don't really need it, do you?
He shot me a look like I had just said something along the lines of "Why don't we sell your mother into white slavery? I know a guy who gives top-dollar for redheads."
Him (sputtering, through his teeth): I. Could. Not. Do. That. I LOVE THAT CAR.
He walked away, shaking his head and muttering something about "women" "cars" and "love". At that point, I started to wonder if this relationship had any future, or if I would always be second fiddle to his first love out in the garage.
A while later, I moved in with him, and we discussed getting married. I steered clear of ever mentioning his mechanical mistress out in the garage, or from using the terms "rust bucket", "eyesore" and "boat anchor" in his presence, for fear that he might break the code and understand that I was referring to his beloved Corolla.
When his work assignment in Austin was over and he was called back to return to California, he bought the bright blue Ford jellybean at a greatly reduced price. He got used to its comfortable seats and windows that went all the way up and airconditioning. He paced around, worrying about how we would get the Corolla back to California, since we already had two cars to drive. Finally, he hit upon an idea.
His brother, Bob, had complained to him that his car was not working well and that it was going to cost a fortune to repair it. Bob lives in Michigan, and wasn't sure if he could afford a new car or to fix the one he was driving. Frank offered that when Bob came to Austin for our wedding, Bob could have the Corolla to drive home. Bob was thrilled and agreed to take it off our hands.
Before the wedding, I started to wonder if the car even worked. I was pretty sure a nest of brown recluse spiders had taken up residence in the back seat, ready to pounce and disfigure anyone who dared disturb their lair. There might have been poisonous snakes and fire ants crawling under the hood for all I knew. We were in Texas, after all, where small critters can carry a big bite. I questioned whether Frank was sure that the car would even start, let alone make a 1500 mile drive all the way to Michigan. Frank decided to show me.
We went into the garage and opened the door. Frank dusted off a few cobwebs off the car and got in. He turned the key, and after a few sputters, the car roared to life. The look on his face was one of sheer joy, mixed with "don't ever doubt me, woman." He then waved at me, sped out of the garage and down the street. I didn't see him again for an hour.
When he returned, we had a conversation that went something like this:
Me: How was your drive? I was just about to call the Texas Rangers to form a posse to look for you. I thought you had broken down somewhere.
Him: Great! Works like a charm! Bob will love this car! It could use a little tune-up, but otherwise, it works fine. I washed it and spruced it up a bit for Bob.
Me: By the way, how many miles does it have on it?
Him: 320,000, give or take. It gets good gas mileage, too.
Bob came to Austin to pick up the car. He was thrilled to have a new-to-him car, even one with 320,000 miles on it. He and Frank circled around the car, while Frank pointed out the features and the problems. They lovingly stroked the hood, and sat in the seats together and talked. You would have thought they were discussing a vintage Rolls Royce. Frank reluctantly handed over the keys, with a promise from Bob that he would take good care of the car. Bob drove back to Kalamazoo without incident. For a week, Frank moaned and groaned, acting like his best friend had just moved to a yurt in Outer Mongolia.
Bob called us a week later to report that he decided to paint the car to spruce it up a bit. I thought he might have taken it to a body shop, but instead, he used a can of glossy exterior house paint and a paintbrush. The car was transformed from a worn, steely gray-blue to a sort of Caribbean blue. "It looks 10 years younger," he said. Frank was delighted with this news and stopped mourning his loss.
Bob kept the car for several years, but the Michigan winters finally did her in. He and Frank commiserated on the loss of the trusty blue Corolla. It was a good car that was more like a good friend to both of them.
I don't think I'll ever understand the love that my husband and his brother have for that particular Corolla. Maybe I'm not meant to understand.
Maybe, like love and beauty, you just have to experience it to know.
Disclosure: I was selected for participation in the Toyota Women's Influencer Network through a program with Clever Girls Collective. I did not receive any compensation for writing this post, or payment in exchange for participating. The opinions expressed herein are mine, and do not reflect the views of Toyota.
Photo Credit: All photos are copyright Frank Schellenberg. Used with Permission. All Rights Reserved. Creative Commons License does not apply to these photos.