As a disclaimer, I am not a "car person." I don't notice cars, I don't think about cars or wish for a particular car. I just like a car to get me where I'm going. But the cars I've had make me think back on different stages of my life.
I learned to drive on a '58 Buick Special, my mother's car. But I had no attachment to it, and for years after I was car-less. My first car that was my very own was an old three tone '65 Ford Fairlane. The three colors were red, white and primer. I drove it into the city every day when I was in nursing school and I used to say it ran on the Spirit of God because every day that car started up was a miracle.
Then there was my '79 blue Ford Pinto. It was new and fabulous. I learned to drive a stick-shift with it. Then we learned the gas tank might explode and we traded it in for a used Dodge Aries. This car transported Cub Scouts and soccer players. Sweaty boys were always piled in it and we traveled many miles and many years.
When Fred and I got married we bought a Suburu Outback. It was a fun car, small and zippy. My baby Arielle rode in it, strapped in her carseat. When Liana came home we bought a new 2001 Ford Windstar van. I didn't want to be a van mom! But at the time we were driving back and forth across the country and needed something roomy and comfortable. I grew to love my van. I took my girls to Chinese school in it, and to dance classes and church and the beach. We packed in other people's kids and our big kids and our friends. It held all four of our bikes and we could put the seats down and load furniture and lumber or just about anything we needed to cart around.
On Monday Fred told me we should take advantage of the Cash for Clunkers rebate. It was supposed to be the very last day of the program. The van has been costing us money in repairs and it was a big gas-guzzler. It's trade-in value was next to nothing. But, Fred, my van! The girls and I love our van.
So we headed to the dealership. We found the smallest, cheapest car. The salesman asked what color we wanted. The girls and I said, "Anything but red." I'm not a flashy person. Then he said red was the only color he had that night. We test drove this tiny, cute car and it felt right. Solid, bigger inside than it appears outside.
Two hours later we were told we were missing a piece of documentation. We took a 40 minute drive home and back to retrieve it. Another hour and we are told those papers still weren't good enough. We went home without the car. No deal. The salesman said he would call if the Senate voted to extend the program. I didn't really want a new car, but now I was disappointed.
The next day the salesman called. The dealership was allowing one more day for the rebate. We cleaned out our much-loved van, finding mementos of long ago, and headed back out. Another two hours and we drove off the lot in a 2009 Honda Fit. Instead of being joyful, I was in tears. My van! What have we done? Such ambivalence! What's wrong with me?
I realize the sadness is because my girls are growing up. It's the end of an era. We can't load this car with the big wagon the girls used to ride in on the boardwalk. We're not transporting strollers and carseats anymore. If we drive south, we'll take Fred's car. I will eventually embrace this new stage of life. Cut-back, down-size, simplify.