It’s unusual to see any small cars here in Alabama, particularly the aptly-titled Mini. Usually, I see only SUVs, trucks, and an assortment of sedans. The trucks are often enormous, and I sometimes feel that they are just waiting to roll over me given the smallest slip-up on my part (or the carelessness of their drivers). As I nervously walk across the crosswalk in front of them, feeling the heat coming from the metal and hearing the rough roar of the engine, I can’t help imagining myself an aging Red Riding Hood, nervously trying to keep to the path as the wolf, here a giant mass of metal and chrome, growls with glee: all the better to flatten you, my dear. Today, however, in just the course of walking a few blocks, I saw two tiny cars, and not just any tiny cars, but Minis: an old-style Mini and a new-style Mini: both gleaming and sprightly.
The older Mini, in particular, reminds me of my childhood and visits to England. My great-aunt had a Mini: a tiny, simple box of light brown that could hurtle across the English countryside, seemingly on wings. My great-aunt was an excellent driver, and she drove that 5-speed Mini with great ease, maneuvering it quickly along winding, narrow lanes, up and down the moors, and around the unpredictable shaggy sheep, who often took a wander in the road. She drove an ambulance during World War II: one of many women who took over the traditionally male jobs during the war. At a time when women didn’t get divorces, she got one, and she went on to make her way in the world as capably as she drove that Mini.
I loved getting into the back of her Mini, which was surprisingly roomy despite its tiny, boxy shape (of course, I was much smaller then), and I loved the places we visited, from Bolton Abbey, the ancient ruined abbey with the stepping stones across the brown beck, the stones hollowed out from all those feet crossing over them day after day; to Skipton Castle with its long drop (a fascinating and scary early version of a toilet). The Mini looked like it came out of a cereal box, it was so small and so simple, and yet it had everything that one needed and it seemed to run forever. I don’t particularly like cars, and I rarely feel any kind of emotional attachment to them, but when I think of my great-aunt’s Mini I can’t help but smile. If I ever have the money, I’ll certainly be tempted to get one for my own: yellow and white, with black racing stripes, I think, though I certainly would never have the skills to drive it like my great-aunt, mistress of all things mechanical (oh, and she was an ace cook too). For right now, I’ll have to settle for a pair of legs and a good pair of walking shoes.