Sometime in the summer of 1993, my father and I made a trip to the Saturn dealership across the river and bought my first adult car that was to be all my own. It was to be an early graduation present for my Master's Degree. Dad was worried that he might be retired by the time I got my MA and was sure he would be by the time I got my Phd.
In the grand tradition of my father's "nothing in life comes free, you have to learn responsibility", the arrangement was that we would each pay for half of the car with me sending him money each month to help cover the payments. In the end, I only ended up paying on the car for a year, because my father suffered a massive stroke the following August, and insurance paid of the rest. Paralyzed on one side of his body, his plan to retire in a few years was hastened, because he didn't have the physical capacity to return to work.
Instead, he worked at physical therapy, hoping for the day when he would be strong enough to go back to his job (or volunteer as a driver for others who had suffered strokes and incapacitating injuries). But that was not to be. After a few months of slow improvement, his recovery stopped progressing. While he could hobble very short distances with the help of a leg brace and quad cane, the furthest his upper body progressed was to regain the useless ability of being able to shrug his left shoulder, while the rest of his arm dangled limply beside him. He held on for a little over a year, but his spirit never recovered.
Then he was gone, and I was left with a memory for a father. A memory and car. Dad was a big car lover, so somehow it seems fitting that the last big thing we did together before his was buying a vehicle. Even though I haven't driven it in ages, somehow the car sitting there in the driveway always felt like a little piece of him was still here. This is in some ways silly, because he was not one to hold onto a car until it was run into the ground. He was always trading up. Still, the association with him was the one thing that held me back from selling it when I bought my current car a couple years ago after the Saturn broke down one time too many.
Since then, the Saturn has been sitting in the driveway, collecting dust and holding memories of trips through California, Washington, Idaho, Nebraska, Wyoming, Montana, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Nebraska, South Dakota, Utah, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico and even Canada. It has gotten lost in Compton, sputtered up mountains and broken down in five states, visiting such American landmarks as covered bridges, the Corn Palace, Carhenge, Mt. Rushmore, Sky City, Disneyland, the Mojave Desert, Las Vegas, the House on the Rock, and the Space Needle along the way. It was the birthplace of the mythology of Shoema, Goddess of Footwear and shopping lists for blue sun glasses, bunny ears, Ricky Martin CDs, and cold medicine. I've laughed, cried, and rescued a kitten from the shoulder of I-5 in that car. In short, it holds the memories of my 20's and early 30's and of all the fun my father would have wished for his daughter (and perhaps some fun he might not have envisioned).
So, why did it come as such a surprise to me this past weekend that I was so sad to sell it? I hadn't realized that I would be. It didn't really hit me until I was cleaning out the remains of my personal effects (obviously very important stuff, considering that it sat in the car for over two years without me missing it). Suddenly, I felt like I wanted to cry. I considered calling the deal off, then decided against it. I really can use the money.
In the end, I am okay with my decision. The thing is not the memory. Besides, the car gave me a new memory the day I sold it. Unbeknownst to me, there was a hornets nest in the passenger side door. Yes, that's right, a hornet's nest that I did not notice early in the day while I was cleaning the car out. No one noticed it, until the two guys buying the car decided to take it for a spin around the block. I will never forget the sight of my car backing out of the driveway, only to have the door fly open and a grown man jump out, waving his arms around and screaming like startled Ned Flanders. My dad would have laughed to see that. I know I did. (Don't worry, no one got hurt.) More importantly, however, they still took the car and I now have my memories AND money in my pocket for something fun. My dad would have wanted me to have fun.