What on earth will my husband think?

Barbara Amiel on Conrad Black’s release

Steve Carrera/Reuters

Last week I stood chequebook in hand at an immense Toronto Toyota dealership, ready to buy the world’s most hideously expensive minivan, and you’d think I had a nasty social disease. I had an appointment to test-drive the box-on-wheels, made after endless email exchanges, but the car wasn’t there.

As for the smart-looking headphoned receptionists chatting to air (or the car lounge lizards hanging around them), I was Grandma Moses. A line of salespeople loitered to the left.

“Who’s next up?” a receptionist asked them as they studiously tried to ignore her eye. I could read the bubble over her head—“just get this invisible dork off my hands”—while she wearily told me that the car I was to drive at 3 p.m. was being used by the sales manager, who had gone on vacation with its keys. I could “sit over there” and someone would soon come to let me look at the locked car—through its windows.

Last year a smoothie salesman convinced me that the Nissan crossover SUV he was selling would fit my dogs nicely. I can’t blame him, though I did bring my canines and they absolutely balked at the show-jump required to mount the back of the car. “They’ll get used to it,” he said. “My Labs love it.” So I leased it. I think it was the satellite radio—I’m a sucker for ’50s songs, especially the Platters. I tried ramps to the car’s uplifted bottom and both dogs did their Gandhi passive resistance thing. The final compromise involved a manoeuvre in which my kuvaszok put their paws up on the trunk floor and I heaved their behinds in. The vet said it was not good for their hips, and my doc said it was not good for my back.

It was at this point last Monday, writing my column for the Tuesday morning deadline, that a cryptic message flashed on my screen from Miguel Estrada, our appeal lawyer in Washington. Miguel is economical. “Bail Granted!!!!!!” That’s all. I read it and put it underneath the stone that sits in my mind on all matters to do with my husband’s nightmare, which is an approach I have refined over the past seven years. I returned to my column.

As I was saying, my adult experience did not include being a hockey mom, so minivans were an unknown. For over 20 years in the U.K. I drove a VW Golf, which was the largest car I could parallel park, and even that involved a lot of eyelash fluttering at passing males for help. Driving forward, yes. Backwards the world turns into a dark terrain, all geo-spatial calculations suspended. It’s a female thing. Now, in spite of using Latisse (which incidentally is terrific and I have monkey eyelashes), I couldn’t get a passing male to rescue me were I under a crashed car. Zut, I thought, never mind. My dogs come first, let’s google minivans.

Now the emails were flashing across my screen like a knocked-over anthill. London, Shanghai, Toronto, all screaming congratulations. Nice. Really, really nice. But not yet stone-lifting time. There would be more hearings to come. “No comment” began to flash in front of me like a neon sign on a cheap hotel in a movie about down-and-out trumpet players. Besides, back to the minivan, my symbol of survival: I am a single mom with two large dogs and a third on the way and dammit, I am going to be able to transport my cheering squad and drive the bloody bus of a thing no matter what.

Turns out only one automaker has a minivan with all-wheel drive, which for me is a necessity when venturing into rural Ontario in mid-winter. I found a very sympathetic salesman at the Toyota dealership right around the corner where the old Inn on the Park used to be, a location that had sentimental ties since it was there that my second husband, George Jonas, and I discovered that we not only both hated Communism but shared many other passions. Unfortunately, the dealership’s sole AWD minivan I now coveted with the same passion I had directed at Jonas over 35 years earlier was driven out by its new owners right while I was standing there; there was a lineup for the ones still being built. No moss grows under hockey moms’ trainers.

I used a car broker, who found me one the same day at an out-of-town dealership. Interesting how new problems create new jobs. When I couldn’t get the seats in it arranged to my canine family’s pleasure, I got a car “concierge.” He turned out to be a retired advertising executive who loved cars and had set up a service for busy car owners and marginally frail drivers like me. Bingo, seats removed, remounted, van now with trunk space, dog space, seating for five and the satellite radio playing Patti Page singing “How much is that doggie in the window?” I put the DVD of the Westminster dog show on the drop-down screen. Haven’t tried the earphones on the kuvs, but they bark happily anyway. Can’t get them out of the bloody van.

So okay, raising the stone just a fraction: what on Earth will my husband think? Minivan not Lincoln Town Car in the garage, dogs galore, kennels in the bedroom and a fenced dog run around his beloved orchard. He’ll manage. I think we’ll both be in heaven—if he ever gets to Canada to see it all. But no comment. That’s another story for another time.

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