Thursday, April 9, 2015

car talk

for a girl whose grandfather was a Ford dealer for more than 50 years, i should think more about cars. but i don't. a car to me has always been transportation, surely, but a means to and end? a status symbol? a love? not so much. and i have not ever really thought much about the car in story — like some people might write about the trans am they saved up for and drove as a teenager or the '65 mustang they painstakingly restored.

a car gets me down the road and home again and i always feel pretty blessed about that. but i don't often think otherwise about the meaning of the box with pistons and throttle, brakes (unless they don't work) or gas (unless i am out of it), and though i should think of the people who created this great machine that changed the world as we know it, i don't.

or at least i didn't.

until i go a new(er) car. two weeks ago.

i have had my fair share of cars, though there is not one picture of any of them. the first, a pale blue maverick i shared with my sister. no ac, no power anything: brakes, steering or windows. a static-y AM radio. my grandfather didn't trust any newfangled gadgets like FM or AC, and though more than once my mother chose those options on family cars, her new drive often showed up in his shop without them. 

the Maverick took me many places, but i remember most driving down the back roads, windows down, headed to the beach for the very first time by myself. i think i was 16.

then there was the mustang — a blue 1975 4-speed my father let me pick out, not at all the collector's item as the '65 — that car moved with me to Carolina, to my first job in journalism. when my landlord found out i had a cat in my apartment, i threw her into a suitcase and into the back seat of the mustang and drove her home to my mother.
together the mustang and I moved all the way down to Georgia and into the-rest-of-my-life. we traded it for a harsh two-toned brown escort with an orange stripe down its side, a little car more suitable to carry the baby home from the hospital than the 4-speed upstart. that brown car was the only car i ever really hated.

then came mom cars. the wagons — a burgundy dodge and a white chevrolet, the dodge van with the fake wood on the side. the expedition that made me nauseous when i drove it out of the dealer lot it cost so much. then the jeep that took my children to college, the one i drove all around eastern North Carolina schlepping my first book. 

and then the last car — a used lexus suv. daddy thought we were living beyond our raising  buying a luxury car — even though by the time it joined the family it was already four years old. 

but it's this car that for some reason got me to thinking about the story of it. and the stories of all the other cars in my life.

people write whole novels about cars. (my friend Jane has written a slew of short stories and every one of them features a car.) one of the only twilight zones of my memory was about a car that talked back to its driver (imagine that!). what about 'my mother the car', apparently labeled the second-worst sitcom of all time? and who can forget Car 54 Where Are You?

i don't write about cars or name them or think about them or tell stories about them, really. but then we found a new car, and before we were headed to the dealer to pick it up, i found myself thinking about all the places the old one had taken me.


100,000 miles. that's how many we trekked together. and as i thought about those miles i actually took a picture of the odometer, and thought, Lord, you are going crazier in tiny increments every day. a few minutes later, we ticked across the 114,000 mark, and it felt like a milestone.

when my husband said he had someone coming to look at the car, i went crazier still. found myself pulling out a note card and writing — as if i were the car itself — to the faceless new owners to tell them what the car had meant to me. seriously. 
I may look a little worn around the edges, the car wrote. I am 11 after all, (is that 33 in car years?) but i have been good to my family...
the buyer didn't show, and i tucked the car's carefully scripted letter in a safe place to wait for one who did.

100,000 miles. 

to the gazebo where the Pea got engaged and to her wedding, with her gown draped across our laps. to the vet with the dog, when we had to put her down, then home with her ashes. to my son's college graduation. to his first house, the back filled with new house things from Target. to my niece's house to meet her new baby. 

to my father's hospital bed too many times, the car doors and windows framing winter as it changed to spring, the steering wheel absorbing my many tears along the way.

that car took me away from my childhood home for the last time and to my mother's new house. to our favorite beach and our friends' favorite mountain respite. to the airport with the dog and to church and to the grocery store and back again on hundreds of regular days. we didn't cover a lot of the map, my old car and me, but we traveled far.

when we sold her last week, (did i really call her HER?) i forgot to put the note in the glove compartment, which is probably a good thing. no reason for the new owners to worry that they bought crazy along with a pretty good old car.

now i'm finally back in blue again. though it's three years old, my new drive still smells like the back of my Bigdaddy's neck ('new car' was his cologne of choice), and has two — TWO — manuals, a 300-pager for the sound system alone. 

and this: it doesn't even have a key! what in the world would my grandfather say to that?

and so we're back on the road. i can't say where my new blue car will take me, but i know somewhere along the way, that's where the story will be.

writemuch.blogspot is the original work of author susan byrum rountree. all written work and photography is copyright protected and can only be used with written permission of the author.