old blue rides into the sunset. end of story.
some time today, a hungry tow truck will roll into the back lot of kenney’s automotive on coates avenue in south deerfield, massachusetts — some 771.668 miles away on the odometer — and the scrunch scrunch scrunch of the metal tooth biting into the rear bumper of an old blue wagon will pierce my heart, all the way from here, inside the old gray house nestled along the alley from which that old car drove away just last summer.
car died a smoky death, rolling into the left turn lane of a country road, near midnight the other night. i found out when the little phone by the side of my hotel bed jangled me awake, and my heart ripped through my chest when i saw the name pop up and heard some degree of alarm as the voice on the other end of the line, a voice i know to be my firstborn’s, yelped: “mom, the car’s smoking. how do you pop the hood?”
he explained, in a bit of a rush: “we’re heading to a diner (at midnight, mind you). and all of a sudden the ‘check engine’ light went on. when i touched the brake, the whole dashboard lit up and smoke started pouring.”
how odd that just the night before, under the halo of a streetlamp in a soggy college parking lot, we’d all made a pilgrimage to that old wagon, paid our last respects — though we didn’t know it at the time — all under the premise that i was applying the $101 village sticker to the windshield and the kid brother, who is sentimental about these things, said he really missed the old car and just wanted to stretch out in the back seat for a minute or two. never mind that the college kid — who’s never been keen on housekeeping — tried to convince us that, really, the car wasn’t in shape for visitors; there were a few remnants strewn around the seats, items the kid brother wasted no time in spying, inquiring about, loudly — in service of his father’s enlightenment and the college kid’s deep chagrin.
i, motherly and not trusting that the job would get done before the old sticker expired, climbed behind the wheel — a wheel i’d climbed behind umpteen million times in the 20 years since we’d bought the sturdy scandinavian vessel — and slapped on the sticker. looked around. climbed back into the pouring rain. the kid in the back seat inhaled — breathing deep of the rare perfume of sweaty rowers who’d made the car into their team shuttle — and then he sighed. he didn’t want to leave the car alone, there in the college lot. fact is, he wanted to take it home.
but we had a big city — boston — to get back to, and a long two-hour’s drive in pouring pouring rain. the car would be home in a few months anyway, when it was motored back for the summer.
when the call came in on sunday night — when whatever it was did whatever it smokily did — my second thought, after telling the midnight caller to be sure not to stand on the side of the road, was “thank god, he didn’t drive into cambridge (the original plan), or this smoky thing would have likely happened while he was alone on a god-awful rainy night along the side of the mass pike where guard rails keep you from driving off what midwesterners would call ‘the cliff.'”
fast forward through a flurry of phone calls, and a keen friendship struck up between me and dear gerry, the massachusetts car mechanic who tells me “the news is bad”: the car we bought before our firstborn’s first birthday has finally bit the dust.
we might get $250 for parts.
now i know it’s little more than a heap of scandinavian steel and a few still tufted cushions, but that old car ferried us clear through two splendid childhoods: drove one little boy to preschool, kindergarten, straight to college. drove the other one home from the hospital, for crying out loud. and every day after. until the car itself went off to college.
at about year three, when we thought there’d never be a little brother and a cat seemed a solid substitute, it drove one mewing striped kitten — stuffed for safe carriage inside the cardboard slot of an ice house beer six-pack — from farm to city house. and it made like an ambulance the bloody afternoon we got the call that the firstborn had somersaulted over the handlebars and was found lying limp on the side of a trail in the woods. from the front seat, that boy whose neck we didn’t yet know was broken, moaned: “mom, am i going to die?” and the little one in the car seat one row back just whimpered and prayed his mighty little prayers, he would later let me know.
it’s the car in which one boy learned to drive. and where i do believe he sealed a first kiss. it lugged groceries by the ton, and broken bikes, and giggling boys. it’s where one or two of us have turned when a good long ride, with the radio on loud, was the surest cure to chase away the blues. it’s carried us through storms and snow and crying jags that would not stop. it always got us home.
it almost hurts to peek at the picture up above, a beauty shot if ever there was. and i can’t bear to imagine the grinding of the gears as the tow truck hoists the wagon to a tilt and rolls it to the burial ground of old, much loved and trusted carriage rides on wheels.
with its bumps and bruises, it’s rolling off in glory. a car that earned its honor. never once did one of us get hurt inside that vessel. it did the job it promised: it rolled two boys, one cat, a mama and a papa safe and sound through all the twists and turns, the hills and downslides of being a happy family that dearly loved what was hoisted on its axels.
i’d planned on telling you about our adventures back in the land of 02139, where for five intoxicating days we inhaled dear friends, cobblestone streets, even a shakespeare class in old harvard hall. but the death knell for the old blue wagon tolled. and i can’t much think beyond it. it’ll be a long sad summer pedaling my bike. my heart will always pine for old blue, the car that turned me gray.
do you have a car you loved? a set of wheels that carried you much farther than mere odometer miles?
I remember that car! I have a memory of you bringing “your firstborn” home from school one day and your car was blocking my garage in the alley. You gave me an apologetic look and the the poor guy bolted out of the car to toss his cookies. You jumped out to help him…told me one minute…and helped him back into the blue car to pull into your garage next to mine. You were outside again quickly with a bucket of water to rinse all the evidence away! Not a pretty memory but one that makes me smile all the same. Xo
Your old neighbor
oh. my. goodness. there’s one i DON’T remember. but you made me laugh on a day when i keep brushing away tears. what a crazy thing to have grown so attached to a lurching, burping machine.
among the crazy memories in that car — and that alley — there was the unFORGETTABLE moment when we, um, backed up over the leg of the homeless fellow who’d passed out where alley met garage, and not only did the alcohol-soaked napper rise up on both legs after i nearly had a heart attack, he went on to become our friend. oh, the adventures packed into the glove compartment of a two-decade-old car.
Enjoyed your story. Have many car memories considering my husband never gets rid of anything. Our youngest of four cars is 12.
thanks to the lovely lovely man who sits behind the desk down in the bank’s safe deposit vault, i am now hellbent on wringing one more drop of good out of those wheels: if we donate the old geezer to kars4kids we can feel a bit better about saying goodbye, and maybe put a bit of spare change into the coffers of kids with cancer.
i told the man a million times thank you for turning a bummer of a day into just a little bit brighter. now, i’m on a mission to get the cancer kids the best car that ever a kid could love — even if it won’t go forward at the moment.
anyone know anything about http://www.kars4kids.org
I never thought much about this as a genre of memory, but boy I can name every car I grew up in as a kid, and every one I have driven. When my siblings gather, car stories from our childhood still abound. This week my brother just posted on FB a pic he snapped in Florida of a blue convertible Chevy Corvair Monza. The Lamb sibs all just sighed all over FB. We fought for turns to drive that baby.
In 1974, I packed all my belongings and drove to Chicago in used, jacked up, tan ’65 Ford Fairlane with a Holly carburetor and column stick shift. I bought it for $365 and it lasted one year before being junked for parts. It was fabulous! The clutch let up high off the floor and it was a challenge to learn to drive it. I was grateful for flat old Chicago.
I know the pain of parting…just moved on from our family van that carried more memories, stains, and smells than I can count. It was getting to hard to look in the rear view mirror and only see the ghosts of my memories of some wonderful road trips and car pools.
I know Old Blue will live on in the stories from your hearts.
We have donated two 12-yr-old cars, not in safe running order, to American Lung. Go for it. I smiled at your son asking how to open the hood. You’ve had the car 20+ years? Perhaps since he got it, he never checked the oil? (Oh, yes, I did that to my first car…) but it reminded me, less smokily, of my college sophomore who, in preparing for spring break in New York, texted to ask if jeans should be washed on regular. He’s been doing laundry, I thought, for a few years. Or has he?
But now I’m thinking, our next cars, including the college kid’s first, will be Volvos. 20+ years! Hokey smokes!
Hoping your boy has good friends with wheels. So glad he was safe and with friends, and thank God for cell phones. And AAA?
you crack me up. yup: you noticed. how to pop the hood. i was thinking that maybe in the high adrenaline of the moment that little detail escaped him. i’m thinking of sending a love letter to old volvo, the company. i once did a story about a guy with a volvo that went 1 million miles. and he was aiming for 2 mill. you know the headline read something about the “million mile man.” he was my muse. i was trying to get near his record. alas, my odometer is back to zero. and most of all, yes, thank God: the boy is safe as safe could be. and it might so easily been otherwise.
So really it had 770,000+ miles on it? I mentioned the number to John. And he said, “Was it a Volvo?”