Garages and Me by Carol Runyan

I have a troubled relationship with garages. I don’t know why.  I didn’t grow up with a garage. My parents parked on the street in our small town under a big maple tree. It meant cleaning myriad helicopter maple seeds off the car in the spring, but that was never a huge chore.

When I was in high school, we moved to a house with a carport. It was innocuous, merely providing covering from rain and tree debris and a place to store our garbage cans next to our 1959 Rambler.

The first house my husband and I owned had no garage. We parked our rusty car in the driveway under a persimmon tree. Though we had to chisel ice off the windshields now and then, it was a reasonable arrangement.

After seven years, we moved to a house with a two-car garage and one huge, heavy door. The garage provided a workshop for my husband and space for a freezer as well as a place to store our yellow and amber bicycles which we no longer rode, in addition to a lot of tools for cultivation of a much-hoped-for garden that mostly withered.

One day, as I was rushing to a meeting, I punched the ‘open’ button. The garage door did not budge. The big door was way too heavy for me to lift manually, though I had seen my spouse do it before and knew it could be done. I was trapped. In a state just short of panic, I called my neighbor who promptly arrived to help me. Together she and I lifted the door, I then jumped in the car to back out while she held the door up, shouting, “Hurry up – I can’t hold this!” I barreled out into the driveway, leaped out again so that together we could try to keep the door from crashing down with full force. This event prompted my neighbor to tell me her own garage story that involved going from her kitchen into her garage to feed her dogs while wearing only her panties. The door locked behind her and she was locked out of her house. She described how she ended up slinking around the side of the house to her lower-level rental apartment to get a spare key from her tenant (luckily a female). We howled together, then I hurried off to my meeting with some of the tension relieved. At least I was fully clothed during this mishap and made a mental note never to enter the garage without being dressed.

A few years later, while on sabbatical in another state, we rented a lovely house near the campus. One Saturday while my spouse was travelling, I decided to go shopping for brassieres. Our son – then eleven – thought that sounded like a dreadful plan and started a full court protest. As we continued to argue, we got into the car for what I had promised would be a quick trip to the mall and bribed him by saying if he cooperated, I would give him the chance to find something he wanted.  In retrospect, I recalled thinking the garage was slightly darker than usual, but while haggling over why he had to go with me, the meaning of darkness did not fully register. Instead, I started the car, determined to prove I was boss, and promptly put the trailer hitch and bumper through the door. I realized immediately the reason the garage had seemed dark.  The car was not damaged, the reconfigured door still opened, so we made the trip to the mall, but the unpleasant tasks of reporting this mishap to the homeowners, dealing with insurance, and replacing the door, remained. I have never lived this down, and it persists in the family lore.

A few days before we moved from our Colorado house, I was invited out for a ‘goodbye dinner’ by three friends. As I went down the short flight of stairs inside the garage to get to the car, I slipped on a piece of a cardboard lying on the steps and twisted my ankle. The pain was excruciating, and I didn’t think I could get up. I imagined neighbors driving through the alley hours later and spotting my crumpled body in a heap on the garage floor, while my husband assumed I was out enjoying a nice dinner, and my dinner partners were thinking I had stood them up. Luckily, I was able to reach for my cell phone in my purse and call my spouse who was inside the house. He brought ice and helped me up so that I could still limp into the restaurant.

More recently, having moved into a new house and owning a brand new car in a new garage, the garage door-opening seemed to have shrunk overnight as my right mirror didn’t quite clear the door frame. Unlike old fashioned mirrors, this one contained about $1500 worth of electronics. Fixing it involved days to ship the pieces and substantial time for the mechanics to assemble a new apparatus. At least the actual mirror wasn’t cracked, so I escaped the curse of fabled seven years of bad luck.

The coup de grâce to my garage reputation involved another tangle with technology. My husband had been the prior driver of our relatively new car. When I got in, headed for a simple errand (no brassieres or young boys involved), I realized I needed to adjust the rear-view mirror. I started the car and reached for the mirror to reposition it, not noticing that my grasp also touched the button on the bottom of the mirror that raises and lowers the garage door. I had raised the garage door before getting in, but, as I started to back out and adjust the mirror at the same time, I managed to signal the garage door to close. I just got the trunk out before the garage door came into rather violent contact with the raised antenna on my roof.  The antenna fell off, the garage door was bent, and I was humiliated. Both the Honda service guy and the garage door guy were very kind in trying to convince me that “this happens all the time”.  Really?

Garages have taught me some valuable lessons:

If the garage seems dark, investigate why;

Never adjust a rear-view mirror until safely outside the garage:

Garage door-openings are narrower than one might think (and they can shrink overnight);

If you must leave cardboard on steps, be sure to have a cell phone and spouse with icepacks handy;

Never go into your garage wearing only panties;

Don’t go underwear-shopping with a recalcitrant eleven-year-old boy in tow. Even the best sale isn’t worth it.

Carol W. Runyan is a retired, and once very serious public health professor, who now writes about her life. She lives in North Carolina with her husband and a ridiculously silly cat named Skitty.
Story illustration via Unsplash.