CHICKASAW, AL–Though they've weathered some rocky times during their five years of marriage, Dale and Sheila Hefko have managed to stay together. The couple's secret? Their lack of a second car.
"This marriage hasn't exactly worked out like I expected, but we're determined to stick it out," he said. "At least until I get my own car so I can still get around."
"So long as we've only got one car between us," Dale continued, "ain't nobody's going nowhere."
Sheila expressed a similar determination to preserve their sacred union, held together by the used 1990 Ford Escort she and Dale bought for $3,100 in 1995.
"Last Friday, when I found out about Dale and [neighbor] Rhonda [Geilstead], I was gonna kick him out of the house for good," Sheila said. "But I knew he'd take off in the car if I did, and I had to go to the dentist in Mobile on Saturday. I wasn't about to wait two months for a new appointment, so I didn't even bring the Rhonda thing up."
Despite their difficulties, the Hefkos realize that divorce is not something to be taken lightly.
"Even if the court says I get the car," Sheila said, "I can't take it, because then he don't have no way to get to work, and he gets fired and I don't get child support."
Also factoring into the one-car couple's decision to stay together are their children, Jesse, 4, and Naomi, 1.
"If it weren't for the kids, maybe we wouldn't still be married," Sheila said. "But as it is, I need to get them to the babysitter's and the doctor, and I've got to get to the Piggly Wiggly in Prichard for baby food and diapers. Take all that away, and I'm doing a whole lot less driving."
The car is also needed to transport Dale and Sheila to their respective jobs, as well as to get Dale to his monthly meeting with his parole officer. Sheila described a typical day: "At around 8 a.m., I drop Jesse off at Kidcare, then I take Naomi over to one of my friends, usually Bobbie or Angie, because Kidcare won't take Naomi until she's 2. Then I wake up Dale, and he drops me off at my waitressing job at the Toot Toot Steak House, then he heads off to the screen-door factory for second shift."
Surprisingly, it was Dale and Sheila's mutual need for a roommate, not a car, that brought them together.
"When I dropped out of high school, my mom kicked me out of the house, so I was just sleeping on people's couches until I could find a place," Sheila said. "Then, when I started messing around with Dale, he said he'd dump his girlfriend if I moved in and picked up her rent. After a few months I got pregnant, so we got married."
Five years later, the pair is still together.
"It's damn near impossible to find a cheap car that isn't gonna end up costing more to fix than what you paid for it," said Dale, who regularly scans the classified ads and visits used-car lots. "See, when you're buying a car, you've got to think of things in terms of the long run. When you sign your name on that title, that car's yours, for better or for worse."