I remember when my husband and I were first married. We were living paycheck to paycheck back then. Ray had just taken a job at a small company where he didn’t get paid much, but he hoped the company would grow and he could grow with it.
He traveled quite a distance back and forth to work, so having a car that didn’t waste gas became a priority. We traded his car in and bought a tiny used one from a guy I was working with at the time. It was a shiny red Toyota Tercel. Cute as a button.
Since it was a stick shift, which I didn’t know how to drive, Ray taught me while I was eight months pregnant. I could barely fit behind the wheel, so my belly bounced against it whenever I made the car jerk and stall. Which was always. It was hysterical!
Ray barely fit in the car too, but for a different reason. He’s six feet tall. This meant if he didn’t keep his hair trimmed it would brush against the roof and tickle him, in an annoying sort of way. Our friends were always teasing him when they saw him get in and out of that car because he had to practically fold himself in half to do it.
We had a lot of laughs because of that car. It was a happy car.
One day, Ray’s new boss invited us to a party at his country club. This was exciting for us because we had never gone to a country club before. “We get to see how the other half live,” we joked.
When we pulled into the parking lot in our little Tercel, we were surrounded by cars that cost more than our house had. We parked between a BMW and a Mercedes Benz, and for the first time realized how small and cheap our car must look.
My self-confidence took a dive. I questioned whether I was dressed appropriately. Would they notice I was wearing shoes from DSW and clothes from TJ Maxx? Every cell in my body was screaming, “I am not good enough!” All I wanted was to go back home, put on my sweats and eat a pizza while watching re-runs of Roseanne. That would put me back in my comfort zone.
Ray and I looked at each other. “I don’t want to go in there,” I whispered. “We’re not going to fit in.”
I could tell he felt the same way, but with just enough confidence he shrugged and said, “It’s good to be underestimated.”
I don’t think any statement, before or since, has motivated me more. Beyond the words, this is what I heard: I know who I am, even if they don’t.
Yes, that was the reminder I needed. I squared my shoulders, held my head high and walked into that country club as if I belonged. Ray and I had a blast that night.
That beloved, cute-as-a button car was part of our family until it’s shiny red coat turned rusty. RIP Tercel, and thanks for showing us what’s important. To this day, over 20 years later, we are still having a blast.