We 'Angels' earned our wings - and wrenches

My mother always said that the more I knew about cars, the less any mechanic would be able to take advantage of me.

And of course knowledge of the workings of an automobile (or even just being able to change a simple flat tire) would always be valuable. Therefore, the summer before my senior year in high school I recruited three of my friends, and we all signed up for autoshop.

I remember that first day quite clearly. Walking into the hexagon-shaped garage felt as though I was walking into another country. My friends and l definitely looked like foreigners.

Not only were we the only women in the class, we seemed to be the only students without tattoos of naked ladies.

Though I felt out of place, I tried to act tough. I simply ignored the guy with the "try me" tattoo on the back of his neck when he winked at me from across the room.

Our teacher, Mr. Vanni, was a short, dark-haired man with a permanent tan. He never doubted us for a second. He was always there to encourage us and to help us out whenever we found ourselves in a bind or had lost yet another wrench somewhere in the engine.

We even made friends with our fellow classmates, who had once seemed so intimidating.

Thus, we eventually were given the nickname, "Vanni's Angels." The name stuck. My friends and I still call ourselves that today.

After two weeks of studying a textbook, we were ready to do some real hands-on jobs.

We started with an easy one - an oil change. I ended up with hot oil dripping down my arm and running into my armpit. Gradually I got better at it and later was able to walk away from an oil change without a drop of oil on me.

Every day I would come home with a new grease stain on my coveralls, but glowing with pride as I told my mother and father about the tune-up we had done that day in class.

I especially loved it when we did brake jobs and I got to unscrew all the bolts on the tires with the big power wrench. It made the high-pitched sound I had heard at gas stations. I was starting to feel like a pro.

We took turns borrowing students' family cars to fix. Sara's dad's Volvo needed its tires rotated; Tricia's Mazda needed new brake pads. We also changed the spark plugs and put a new distributor cap on my grandpa's Chevy truck.

Not all our mechanical assignments were a success. Once we volunteered to steam-clean the engine of a friend's car. With good intentions, we accidentally drenched the motor. For some reason a tow truck had to be called, and it wasn't until the next day that the car finally started.

Fortunately, we were forgiven.

Before long, summer had come to an end. I knew I was going to miss autoshop. I walked away from that class with new friends and a sense of accomplishment.

Since then, I have never feared mechanics and I have thoroughly enjoyed the look of surprise on their faces when I ask, "Have the spark plugs been gapped correctly?"

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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