An Emotional Ride

firebird     It’s just a car, right?

A car is an inanimate object that cannot see, hear, feel, taste or smell. It is incapable of emotion and never takes its owner’s feelings into consideration when it breaks down on the interstate at the most inconvenient time. So why, on the anniversary of my father’s death, am I riddled with anxiety and guilt over the thought of trading in the last vehicle he ever purchased?

I mean it’s not like he actually rode in it or anything. He and my mother ordered the custom minivan in the waning months of his life and it wasn’t delivered until after his death, so why go to pieces over a car he owned in theory only?

I suppose it would be different if I were trading in my parents’ 1985 navy blue Pontiac Firebird. Now THAT was a car. Purchased during a mid-life crisis when Dad was trying to hang on to his youth and whatever was left of his hair, the Firebird was the epitome of cool and I couldn’t wait until I got my driver’s license three years later so I could tool around town in dad’s zippy little sports car as opposed to my mom’s more family friendly and tastefully tan Pontiac Phoenix.

Sadly, I only drove the Firebird once. Well, maybe drove is too strong of a word. It was the day before Father’s Day and my mother asked me to park the car in the garage in order to free up the driveway for dad when he returned from his errands. I don’t know what the woman was thinking considering I barely had a learner’s permit, the car had a 5-speed transmission and I had no idea what to do with a clutch. Mom patiently explained what to do, but I must confess, this whole caper of hers sounded like something out of I Love Lucy and I just knew something was going to go wrong.

Sure enough, I fired up the engine and rolled into the narrow one-car garage…and right into my father’s workbench. My mother’s cheer of “You did it!” segued to “Julie, STOP!” in a nanosecond as I buried the nose of the car into the wood and got a horrifying shade of teal paint all over the hood of the vehicle.

“OK, back it out,” Mom said, as we assessed the damage.

“Are you out of your mind?” I asked. “Haven’t my driving skills gotten us into enough trouble today?”

Thankfully, the nose of the car was made of rubber and it popped right back into place. Mom then located a container of rubbing compound in an effort to get the paint off the hood while a gaggle of neighborhood children lined the curb to watch the action and chant “She crashed” a few minutes later when dad arrived.

To my shock and relief, dad was very cool about the whole thing. He was glad that the paint came right off; that there was no damage to the hood and above all, that we were OK. Less than a year later, he traded in the car. He never said that it was because of me, but I remain unconvinced.

With those kinds of memories, why should I be racked with emotion over a gold, gas guzzling minivan that became mine in the LAST way I ever wanted to receive a free car? I mean come on, it occasionally died at intersections, was 15 years old, made me look like a soccer mom and didn’t corner worth a darn. This should be a no brainer.

It should be, but it isn’t. That van represented the last business deal my parents ever made together and though I know it’s time to switch lanes and move on to something new, it’s still hard to let go of something that symbolized the ride they shared together.

And what a ride it was!


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