Between my junior and senior year of college, I house-sat for about a month for the senior pastor and his wife of First Presbyterian Church in Colorado Springs while they were in California for vacation. At the time I was finishing up a summer of work for the city Park and Recreation department leading programs for kids in the city parks. My team, which included two other leaders, traveled to ten different parks a week, running the same half day program ten times. Each week we switched to a different theme and did another program ten more times. At the same time, I was the student leader for the college age group at First Pres., filling in for the team of twelve students that led the group during the school year when Colorado College was in session and brought in eleven other students to help. By the end of the month, my nursing school was back in session and classes had started. It was a busy month!
John and Gail had a beautiful home, which they released into my care. While I stayed there, workmen were making renovations, so sometimes I had company. Plus I had their little dog—a Sheltie—who greeted me every morning no later than 5:30 to go outside. I was glad he was a little dog, and his breath wasn’t so bad. Earlier that summer I’d house sat for one of my nursing professors, Sally Olds. She had two sheepdogs that I think had been crossed with elephants. They were HUGE. Their panting, gooey mouths came right to my face if I ever sat down. Sally often called from Hawaii to check on her babies, asking me to tell them endearing things for her, and to give them her love and plenty of kisses. I had to pat them on the heads and take a pass on the kisses. I think that was just about the time I began to fully recognize how strongly I am a cat person. I think their breath sealed the deal for me.
While John and Gail were gone, John gave me his car keys and welcomed me to use his car like it was my own—something I didn’t have yet so his offer was quite a boon. One day, I needed to stop by the church during business hours. I thought, “Heck, John’s not here, so his parking spot will be open. Save me time finding a parking spot across the street….” So I pulled into staff parking and slid his car into his spot in the middle of the month when all the mice were thinking the cat was in California. That was kind of fun. I heard some people were a little confused when they saw the boss was back.
As I was merging onto the interstate to go back north from downtown, his car (I have no idea what make or model; as long as there was a steering wheel and key slot that turned the thing on, I didn’t worry about it) so his car was acting funny as I merged. The engine was vrooming but we weren’t going anywhere fast. I tried and tried to get the thing moving, and it just wouldn’t move. I was sure I’d broken it. I stayed in the right lane, wondering how in the world I was going to deal with this. Panicking, I scanned the dash for any indication of what might be happening. I couldn’t get above 35 or 40. Should I call that night and admit I’d destroyed his car? Should I protect their vacation and not tell until they were back? How would I pay for the repairs? Would it even be reparable? I was a mess. I slowed down then tried to accelerate again. My mind raced. I tried to think of something, but nothing panned out, nothing solved it.
Then I noticed the needle of the gear shift was not exactly precisely on a drive speed and sat kind of between the markings. I moved the gear shift a notch, the needle moved between two other numbers on the dial, and all at once the car stopped vrooming and just drove. Turns out, I’d been in Low so of course it wouldn’t go any faster. (I know that now.) I still worried that I’d burned out his engine by driving down the interstate in Low, but it seemed to work fine once I found the right gear.
When it was nearly time for them to return, I was cleaning up the car, getting it ready to hand back over. Then I looked at the odometer and nearly had a cow. There were way more miles on there than when I’d taken custody. Once again, I started to panic. How in the world did I put that many miles on it? What would John think of me? That I took his car on a cross country road trip? That I’d loaned it out to friends to go on extensive joy rides? Again, I was a mess. I was sick to my stomach. I was plagued with dread and anxiety. Then I crawled out from beneath my shame, fear, and panic and got smart and talked to my dad. He told me the number of miles I’d put on was easily average for a month of driving. Pheee-ewe! I was saved. I washed the car, parked it in the garage, and set the keys on the counter, walking away before I did something to it that couldn’t be explained away.
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