From a Junker to a Gem

Four years ago today, I picked up my newly restored VW bug. Painted, polished hubcaps, new dual exhaust pipes, new headliner, new upholstery, new seals on the windows and doors. So much had been done, I barely recognized my old rattletrap.

I just stared at the car. It looked so pristine, it seemed to have crept out of a time machine from the 1970s into the here. And yet it was still my vehicle, the only one I had ever owned.

For a long time, I was afraid of driving the vehicle, worried I would ding it or that it would fade in the sun or that something would happen to it.

Well, something did happen to it . . . four years.

Despite the years, it still looks awesome, though not quite as new and shiny as it did four years ago. There are chips in the paint from gravel on the road during my many trips, a ding from when someone’s car door slammed into my fender, a small area that got discolored from gas drippage, rust on the tailpipes. And it needs a bath. And tires.

But it still makes me happy to see it. It still makes others happy to see it.

I remember when I was trying to decide if I wanted to buy a new car (mine seemed like such a junker), my mechanic told me that if I bought a new car, in five years, it would be a piece of junk, but if I put that same money into my car, in five years, the bug would be a little gem. I was still on the fence until the appraiser, who came to look at my father’s house when we placed it on the market, said the same thing, in almost the same words.

So I made the appointment to have the car de-rusted and painted. It was supposed to take three weeks, but it took six months. As frustrating as those six months were, in retrospect, they were wonderful months since I spent some of those months with a dear friend. Not only did we have a great visit, but she would drop me off at the beginning of a hiking trail in the Redwood Forest or along the Pacific Ocean, and then pick me up at the end of the trail. A truly halcyon time.

Whether my bug is a gem or not, it’s still going. Luckily, I’ve found a mechanic who loves working on my car. (Compared to modern cars, it’s simple and easy to work on — if you know what you’re doing.)

Soon, perhaps, I will have a garage worthy of the car. Well, I do have a garage, but it needs a new foundation, a new floor, and new paint.

I’m looking forward to that! After all the years of service, my lovely little bug deserves a good place to rest when it’s not in use.


Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

A Forty-Three-Year-Old Lemon

When I bought my VW forty-three years ago, there were so many problems, I thought for sure it was a lemon. For one thing, it wouldn’t always start, and for another, the gears would grind when I shifted. I kept taking the bug back to the dealership, and the men would patronize me, telling me in their superior tones that I didn’t know how to drive, that I just had to get used to the new car. One time, the jerk took my instruction manual out of the glove compartment and scribbled all over the page about how to start the car to emphasize his point.

lemonIt wasn’t until months later that a friend of a friend who loved to argue took the car into the dealership and got them to take it for a drive. And then, oh, my. What a backtracking. “Why is she driving this car?” they asked. “There’s no syncromesh.”

Yep. My fault. (Is the mystery of why I still have the same car becoming clearer? I never wanted to deal with such folks again.)

Eventually, I got all the original problems straightened out, and then the secondary problems (such as a clutch cable that broke at about 1000 miles). That set the pattern of my dealings with the bug. Things would go wrong, and I got them fixed.

When the car was working, I liked it just fine, but when it wasn’t working, I hated it.

Somewhere along the line I began collecting articles about shopping for a new car (new to me, that is). One article is called, “The Smart Way to Car Shop,” and another is, “Lots of Used Lemons.” The tagline on the second article is “There’s a whole new generation of secondhand cars out there. One in ten is a disaster waiting to happen.” (Apparently, a lot of cars that were totaled end up being fixed and sold illegally without a warning about the accident.)

I figured if there was a chance of ending up with a disaster, I might as well stick with the disaster I knew. And somehow, my “disaster” has managed to survive for 43 years. (To show you how old it is, I just found the license plate renewal for when the car was four years old. The tags and license fee were $2.50.)

I’ve been trying to figure out what sort of vehicle to replace this one with, but all of a sudden today it struck me that I wasn’t the one who decided I needed a new car. The men in my life and one or two women seem to think this vehicle should be disposed of and I went along with their assessment because there is no getting around the fact that the bug is old, decrepit even.

The truth is, I don’t really care what car I drive. For me, a car is simply a car. A car wouldn’t make me feel special or young or safe or . . . whatever it is that a car is supposed to make me feel. I have no need of a new car smell (would probably aggravate my allergies, to tell the truth). I do have to admit that for a while, I was embarrassed to be driving such an ancient thing, as if it said something about me, but it doesn’t say anything. The bug is simply a means of transportation. I don’t even care that it is temporarily unreliable. I don’t need to be anywhere that I can’t get to on foot, at least for now, and I don’t particularly like driving anyway.

Although it would be nice to have a “stealth camper” that I can park anywhere without anyone knowing I was camped inside, I probably wouldn’t be able to afford a long trip for another year, and such a vehicle would be impractical for city driving.

So, as with everything else in my life, I’m taking the stance that things will work out or they won’t. It’s as simple as that.

And how lovely not to feel as if I need to make a decision!


Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Turning My Ancient VW Bug Into a Drivable Piece of Art

I’m thinking of turning my ancient VW bug into a drivable piece of art. I suppose if I got the thing repainted the original color, it could be considered “art” since such an old beetle is fairly rare, but it might be fun to drive something totally unique, something that screams, “Pat Bertram is here!”

I could, of course, literally paint “Pat Bertram is here” on the side of the car, or do something more productive like “Pat Bertram, author” and give my web address since more than anything I would like some unique way of selling my books. But if I step outside my “author” persona, the ideas are limitless. For example, I’ve seen photos of a bug completely covered with beadwork. I’ve seen one where the body was remade with white wrought iron, making it look like a lace car. The wrought iron body would be drafty, the beadwork would be so heavy the mileage would suffer, so neither would be practical. And besides, cleanboth of those ideas have been done.

I recently saw a photo of a bug that someone had rounded into a perfect sphere, but of course, such a stationary work of art would defeat the purpose of making sure the vehicle is drivable.

Perhaps I could decoupage the car with colored tissue paper, then spray it with clear enamel to make it look like stained glass. Or turn it into something resembling a patchwork quilt. Or even cut out tiny squares of various colors of fabric and arrange them into a mosaic-like design so that up close it doesn’t look like anything but from a distance you could see a floral arrangement, perhaps. Or get the car painted the original marine blue and paint a green ivy border around the bottom. Or paint the car to look like a little fairytale house, complete with window flower boxes and thatched roof. Or . . .

I really hadn’t planned to restore the car since I thought the poor thing was destined for the junk yard, but I found someone who can rebuild the engine and rework the suspension, so maybe I should keep it going one way or another. The trouble is, restored or not, such an old car is a responsibility for a non-car-buff because things are always breaking down, few mechanics know how to fix them, and parts are hard to come by, so I’m not sure I want to do it. Either way, I could do something arty to the body, to have fun with it as long as it lasts.

Feel free to offer suggestions!


Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

A Vehicle to Drive on a Soul’s Journey

The first car I fell in love with was a Volkswagen bug, and I have it still. In fact, it’s the only car I ever owned. And I’m the only owner it ever had. Only 21 years younger than me, and the thing still runs!

I am aware, though, that it’s not a good idea to take a car this old on an extended journey into the future (as you can see, it’s being held together with duct tape), so in the belief that by visualizing something, it will help it come true, I thought I’d show you the car would like to get. Although many people have suggested campers, fifth wheels, winnebagos, I wouldn’t get one even if I had the money. This will be a journey of the spirit — a soul trip — and I need to be light and free.soul

So this is what I’d like to get — a Kia Soul. Isn’t that the perfect name for a car to take on a mystical quest? Even better, this is only the only other vehicle besides my beetle that I’ve ever fancied. I thought it would be painful to contemplate getting rid of something who . . . oops, I mean something that has been with me all these years, but after the death of my life mate/soul mate, what’s a car? Simply a ride.


Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+