It takes a long time to grow an old friend.

~ John Leonard ~

Got a Happy Lemon?

February 8th, 2012 ~ Est. reading time: 2 mins, 18 secs

All of our happy lemons were way too squeezy.

Honestly, can anyone have a happy lemon?

What do I mean by a “happy lemon”? Well, a car that only starts with a splutter on odd days, judders to reach city speed limits, and turns with all the precision of a double decker bus. That’s what I call a lemon. Not the citrus kind; more, the Rolls Canardly kind (meaning, they roll down the hills but can ‘ardly get back up).

So can you be happy driving anything that unreliable?

Certainly, I’ve had my share of old clunkers. But could any of them deserve to be called happy lemons.

My first car was a faded red ’69 model Toyota Corolla, I named “Moriarty.” The driver’s safety belt was broken when I bought it so Ruth pestered me to get it fixed. I did, and a week later had a head-on collision. Thanks to the working safety belt, I survived, though the car was a right off. So did that make it a happy lemon?

Well, after that, I had a true lemon: a light blue ’71 Datsun 1200. The gear popped out of third if you didn’t hold it in, the brakes needed pumping, and the red hot cigarette lighter shot out into the back seat (that was the “turbo button”). I called it “Moriarty Also.” Really, it was a shocker of a car. But it did a couple of hundred thousand and drove where cars really oughtn’t go. So did that make it a happy lemon?

There were more, of course. Like Betsy, our ’66 Hillman Minx that steered like a ferry and sneakily poured exhaust into the cabin. Or the moldy dark green Datsun 1600 that went well, despite suffering an incontinence problem every time it rained. Or perhaps, the title of true lemon should go to my bright yellow ’91 Toyota Corolla, with it’s “no-drive” engine.  Powered by a single overhead hamster wheel motor, it had built-in hill fear.

That was forgivable. What was not was this lemony colored car’s scary secret. It was a cut and shunt. Literally, it was made from two halves of two cars carved apart and welded together again!  Really, could such a dodgy device ever deserve the title of a happy lemon?

Despite the troubles conjured by each of these vehicles, we still had many happy times (after all, there was a lot to laugh about). However, thinking about them now, I admit these cars were alarming.

So were any happy lemons? No. We made them happy doing the best we could with what we had. But in truth they were dangerous, unreliable, and often problematic (Which was the perfect cover for my driving. At least, that’s what my kids think).

Aside from getting us from point A to B (even when we were really trying to get to C), these underwhelming autos illustrate an important point. It’s not what you own that makes you happy, but how you see it. You can grumble about your car or laugh about it. Like everything else we own, we decide if it satisfies. Perhaps that’s why, whether happy lemon or just another unappreciated luxury, the greatest feature you can apply is your mind. With that wonderfully human characteristic called happiness and a sense of nonsense, even our humblest possessions can be made to earn a certain charm.


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