The old engine roared to life as I turned the key. Then it died and needed to be restarted. And thus we began our last journey together, the old ‘89 Oldsmobile and I.
The computer had flashed me a cheerful “Good Morning.” I thought how ironic it was that on this last day, this last trip, it would be off schedule. It was 12:15 and afternoon. But that brought another wave of sadness over this parting. Perhaps it was wishing it was morning again, maybe morning in terms of being a younger and more reliable vehicle so that this trip wouldn’t be necessary.
I had already started getting nostalgic as I cleaned it out. I was remembering how it got its reputation for being a drifter. Bobby Snow didn’t believe that it would drift all the way from the end of his road to his house, but he was proven wrong.
Cameron had hit a deer not too long after he had started driving, so there were major repairs required. The grill was from another model car, and the major front pieces never again fit quite as well as they had before.
The hood ornament kept falling off, so Johnie bolted on a rather plain metal drawer pull. The harness on the left turn signal had been broken, so you had to remember to push it up after every left turn (a subject of some frustration when wives tried to remind husbands so that fellow travelers on the road wouldn’t become confused).
The front passenger side window didn’t lower or raise anymore. I guess a more accurate description would be that if you made the mistake of lowering it (which it might accomplish), the raising would either not happen or would be completed only with the utmost outside assistance.
There were miscellaneous wires in the trunk and under the dash from the sound system and other electronics that Cameron had installed in his late teenage years. (Am I remembering blue undercarriage lights at one time???) Sadly, there must have been some bumping of the radio in the process because it never sounded very good in its latter days.
I cleaned out the candy wrappers, one of Johnie’s time cards (since he had been the primary driver recently), shells of sunflower seeds which had probably been consumed by one of the ballplayers in the family (Paul was a likely candidate), and just enough coins to make the clean-out additionally rewarding.
I recalled that during Randi’s tenure, the car had received its name (Gary) and had safely transported her to and from school for a goodly number of her high school days. Although I had forgotten until today, the girls' naming of cars was but a revival of the tradition their mother had started (see below). Kaylyn’s Corolla was Zingy. Randi’s 4-Runner is Moby (I’ll give you three guesses as to the color and the first two don’t count!). The 1995 Oldsmobile was Jerry.
So across town we went to the vehicle retirement and recycling center (I don't like the word "junk") where our ailing 1993 Buick had also ended its existence a couple of years ago. But Gary was behaving so beautifully. His engine was smooth and responsive. He didn’t even cut off on me once as we traveled (he had twice for Johnie yesterday). This did nothing to counteract my suspicions that maybe I was Gary's favorite.
The odometer stood tantalizingly at over 294,000 miles. How I had wanted to see that 299,999 become 300,000. I remember that our red Astro van had turned 100,000 the day Bill Clinton was first elected. (What a sad thing to remember him by...the car, not Clinton!) I remember driving that van around offering prayers of thanksgiving that we had enough room so that our five children could spread out over the three rows of seats. Plus, I was into classical music at the time and loved listening in my own private concert hall.
a comfortable sleep—aggravated, of course, by the huge steering wheel.
|Not Alice, but like her|
But about eight years later Alice was sitting in the driveway of our under-construction home. Johnie kept reasoning with me that we just couldn’t afford to keep her running. Not only did the water pump need to be replaced, but the flashy and plentiful chrome was beginning to suffer from Virginia’s humidity. Plus, we were clay poor (we don’t have dirt per se in Albemarle County) and we had someone interested in buying her. It took me a while to reassure myself that my social standing didn’t really depend on my reputation as the owner of the pink-and-white Cadillac after all. (For better or worse, that has now been replaced by the title of genealogy freak, but that’s another story.)
A thousand dollars later, Alice was towed out of our lives forever. I had wanted to use the money to buy something specific that we could remember her by. But I’m pretty sure we couldn’t afford that sentimental luxury right then. I still think of her every time I see a restored ‘57 Caddy and wonder if that might be her. Plus, she’ll always be a good historical marker since I’ll never forget that the gas in her tank (probably filled sometime in 1978) had cost 55 cents per gallon.
So farewell, Gary. You served us well, and we are appreciative. More appreciative than our abandonment might indicate. Perhaps the tears I shed as I waited for my visiting teacher to pick me up and take me home will attest to that. I’m getting a little weepy again thinking that the computer had probably figured out the timing error when the new owner started him up after I left.
But you will live on in our hearts. We’ll think of you every time we see one of your siblings. And maybe this time we will be able to use the money we got for you in a memorable way.
Rest well, faithful servant.
P.S. For his part, Johnie denies any shred of sentimentality in this matter. Oh well, one of us has to have a heart!