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Wordie Wednesday: cantankerous

  • Bad-tempered, argumentative, and uncooperative.

  • Mid 18th century: of unknown origin; perhaps a blend of Anglo-Irish cant ‘auction’ and rancorous (see rancour).

My first car was an ‘82 Datsun 210, already 10 years old by the time I owned it. You can’t find Datsuns anymore. They’re extinct. This car was spunky. Baby blue, spotless body, thanks to spending most of its life in salt-free BC. It even had a car alarm, which made people laugh when I told them.

Canada’s western-most province is sheltered by the Rocky Mountains, and its climate is, well, British. Historically, winters are mild by Canadian standards, and so ice and snow are a rarity (or used to by, anyways; climate change is wreaking havoc on BC, just as it is everywhere else). No ice? No salt. Salt is a car’s enemy – it eats away at the metal body mercilessly.

Perhaps it was its sheltered life in British Columbia that made the Blue Bomb so cantankerous in Ontario’s winter. It wouldn’t start if the temperature fell below -10C. No amount of cajoling would get that engine to turn over.

Gasline antifreeze didn’t do the trick. Neither did talking nicely to it, nor getting angry with it. It’s a car, after all. The car was so agreeable for most of the year, but when winter arrived, its cantankerous nature took over.

Then I learned a secret. My ex-brother-in-law gave me a tip that would make the car start every time. Spray WD40 into the carburetor.

On cold mornings when I needed to be somewhere for a certain time, you’d find me in engaging in a comedic routine worthy of Charlie Chaplin at least 20 minutes before I really needed to leave. Here’s how it went:

Insert key in ignition. Pop hood and prop it up. Get out of car. Leave door open. Open trunk to locate WD40. Go to front of car, remove cap off WD40. Spray quickly into the carberator. Run back to the driver’s side and jump in. Turn ignition quickly and keep turning until it’s clear it has started or, more likely, not started.

Repeat steps 6-9 until car starts. Let car warm up before driving.

If I went to work, for example, and left the car outside in frigid temperatures, I’d have to do it all over again at the end of the shift or day.

Despite its winter-hating nature, I loved that car. It gave me my first real freedom to go where I wanted. I drove it hard, so hard I burnt out the engine because no one told me I was supposed to put oil in it.

I’ve had several cars since. Although they, too, have their own stories, none of them have been as stubborn or uncooperative as the Blue Bomb. Perhaps the things that carve a little notch in our hearts to store up our fondest memories are also the things make us work the hardest.

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