Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Old Car

In my car's youth, I left the driving to her. I’d adjust the heat or air to my liking, select tunes to fit my mood, put my hands on the wheel, and trust her to get me to my destination. She always did.

Once she passed her ten-year birthday, however, things began to go. I get it; we’re on somewhat the same track in the aging department. I identify with her creaks, groans and slow days. I am sensitive to her sounds, and to other elements almost indefinable, tremors of communication between her accelerator and my foot. Almost before they occur, I can sense a catch, a rev of engine, a hint of hesitation. I ease off, and she rallies.

Starting has always been her forte. Believe me, I’ve had cars where I approached every departure with an anxious intake of breath. But this old girl, my Caravan, like a faithful dog who greets the negligent master with smiles and a wagging tail, starts right up, even if she’s been left idle for weeks.

Last week, she climbed the hills to Wildlife in Crisis, chugging and coughing, hitching and revving, to help me deliver a wounded woodchuck into caring hands and then brought me safely home. Once there, I had a story to write about injured animals and a refuge in the woods, so my valiant car’s deteriorating health slipped my mind.

Despite the frigid temperature, she started right up this morning, feigning cheer, determined to take me to Mercy Learning Center. As is our way, we took it slow, pulling over to let other drivers pass, gliding where we could, two old girls, out for a roller-coaster ride. But a string of traffic lights and the peaks and valleys of Park Avenue nearly broke her. She thumped painfully and shuddered as if to stall. I tapped the brake, then lightly pressed the accelerator. “Please Sweetie. You can do it,” I urged, holding my breath. As the road leveled out, she did as well.

In “Castaway,” when Tom Hanks befriended Wilson the soccer ball and sobbed when it floated away, I cried with him. I’ve been weepy more than once knowing the demise of my mobile womb is imminent.

She has been a refuge, a place for solitude, tears and reflection. When I had cancer, and during my father’s illness and death, she surrounded me with songs cheerful to soulful – “The Little Mermaid” to “Les Miserables,” music to feed my sorrow if that felt right, or something to banish the blues if it seemed a possibility. Not that we shared sad times only; when the weather was warm, I’d roll her windows down and we’d zip along our way, breezy, belting out “Life is a Highway” and “Shanty.”

When we nosed into the lot at Mercy Learning Center, she gave a chassis-shaking shudder. “Oh Sweetie. Rest a bit,” I said and left her, wondering what the return trip would bring.

Two hours later, I drew near her comforting, matronly form, a sight that has awaited and welcomed me in parking lots and unfamiliar places for eleven years. I was mentally preparing to make the call to Triple A, with the resulting chilly roadside wait, and a bevy of calls to figure out my next step. But, when I got into the car, gave her a pat, and said, “Can we do this?” she started right up, dear old friend. With tears in my eyes, I guided her gingerly out of the lot onto the road.

It was a painful trip home. The effort was huge on both our parts. Abdomen, (mine), clenched tight; breath held; posture, rigid, with a slight tilt forward as if to push, to will her onward. Our fellow travelers showed amazing restraint: no one honked as we plodded on, lurching and gasping, pulling over periodically. “You’re doing great, Sweetie, just great.”

As the gap closed between our trembling progress and home, I stroked her armrest, mindful that this might be our last ride. When we pulled into my spot in front of the house, I leaned against her steering wheel and cried.


Anonymous said...

How I can relate! My husband tried, valiantly, to pull my car from my hands. He, lovingly, gingerly, would suggest that spending more in one service on my precious car than we would pay in a year of car payments was just not the way to spare our accounts. Ok....only if the new car gets excellent mileage...maybe....We went, negotiated a good price and voila! I had a new car. People came out of the dealership to watch, perhaps to take pictures of the goodbye. As we removed all the items squirreled away in my car, I was sobbing. I had assumed she and I would grow old together, that she would be my coffin when the time came. Like a petulant child, I loudly proclaimed I would never ever love my new car like my trusty friend. As a PS.....a couple came in, apparently, to the dealership and bought MY old car. They claimed...she was well loved. She was. And no, as much as I do enjoy my new just isn't the same.

Great piece! And....I KNOW your woodchuck really did know you cared and only wanted to help.

Lea said...

I love the above comment...a companion in car love! As I washed the dishes just now I wondered if people would think I was crazy. When I talked to the car, calling her "Sweetie," Casey always said, "Mom, it troubles me when you talk like that..." Ah well.

gail said...

This reminds me of a time many years ago. It was a '52 Chevy that had carried our family for many years- from before we kids were born when it was just my parents starting out,then building a new house, moving to the suburbs. I remember the trips into Philadelphia to the row house where my father's family gathered for holidays, family outings to the drive-in where my sister and I would fall asleep in the back seat,
summer picnics with the crew from the volunteer fire department...
The picture is so sharp in my mind of that last day. She was a two-tone green sedan- not something you see any more. I don't think I'll ever understand why she meant so much to all of us, but I do know we sat in the car and sobbed after we dropped her off at the junk yard. All of us.

Laurie said...

I love the way you appreciate everything in your life. You see beauty in all things...

Danille Folson said...

Oh my, my own memories of and with my own old car are still quite fresh in my mind too! Whether it’s a long road trip across states or just a simple trip to the grocery store, a car is essential for our daily living. However, a car does have a life span, and when that runs out, repair and maintenance is a must. In some cases, it would be smarter to sell the old car instead and get a new car with better mileage. said...

I love that movie! It may be awkward, but it can happen to anyone else. Imagine being cast away with no one to talk to. Nevertheless, it’s just a vehicle used for transportation. I’m pretty sure that there are other cars out there that can give you a more thrilling and exciting adventure.

Unknown said...

This is the most touching story of an owner to her car. Letting go is really a difficult word to say and do, especially you shared both good and bad times together. But sometimes, it's the right thing to do. Anyway, I read your recent post and I'm glad that you already have a new car. I'm sure you'll create another exciting experience with it. Drive safely.
→ Ava Harness @

Freddy said...

This was a very well written piece and one that hits very close to home. Back in the 90s I had a Chevrolet Corsica. Dude, how I loved that thing. I could not have put it nearly as eloquently as have you, but our final days together were almost exactly the same a yours. She finally died in early 2000, but I will never forget her.

Freddy @ Jacky Jones Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram