Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Trusty Rusty Girl

We had no intention of buying a van. We just weren't 'minivan people'. There was no category of 'crossover' when we welcomed our third child into the family, so we were determined to stick with our trusty Mazda sedan.

It had a wide back seat, after all. And it drove so beautifully. We'd bought it when we were first married and it had many good trip memories associated with it. We had no trouble turning our noses up at the minivan converts and happily strapping three car seats across our one back seat.

Then our third baby got sick. Like weeks in the hospital and they don't know what's wrong sick. And one day, as I rocked him quietly in the corner of his hospital room, his daddy showed up and looked shaken. I thought maybe he'd run into our baby's doctor in the hall, and knew something I didn't about a diagnosis. But it had nothing to do with our son.

It had to do with my husband's drive to the hospital. As he sat at a light, that had just turned green, the van in front of him pulled into the intersection and was immediately T-boned by a red light runner. The damage was extensive. Fortunately no children were in the minivan, but it was a graphic reality check for my husband.

"If there had been a kid in that second seat, he'd probably have been okay," he told me. "But what if I had been the one in that intersection? What if our children had been lined up across our back seat? Whoever's car seat was on that side wouldn't have a chance. They're just too vulnerable."

That night, seeing how shaken my safety conscious husband was, I dropped my reservations and had that discussion with him. Maybe it was time to break down, for the sake of our kids, and take the minivan plunge.

Fortunately, baby was diagnosed and bounced back to health quicker than we could have dreamed would be possible. Four months later, we were on a car lot, pricing vans.

It was the end of the year. Practically the last day of the year. The dealer was ready to unload the last of his old year models. We weren't picky. We just needed something safe and something affordable.

And then we saw Ruby.

Shiny red, the kind of red they put on sports cars. Maybe it was her way of letting us know it was okay to get behind her wheel. She seemed to be promising us a compromise, her sports car color, for our dive into mediocrity.

She had no bells or whistles. She was the last on the lot. No tinted windows. No cruise control. No automatic seats. Not even power windows. She might be the only car our kids have ever seen that has crank windows.

The only perk she had was the second sliding door, which was a brand new idea in 1996. It was something we would have never asked for, but have adored since the day we took her home. It's much easier for hoards of kids to pile out of a minivan, when there are exits on each side.

The first time I drove her I was amazed by how much I could SEE! There were windows everywhere! And I loved how high I sat as we drove down the highway. No more cruising around 'down below'. I could practically see truckers in the eye. She won me over pretty quickly, and that was before I realized just how handy those extra cup holders could be.

And then we were hooked. Our many family trips, especially those that involved crossing many states to see Grammy on the East coast, were so much more comfortable. We never worried about her breaking down. She was our only vehicle for years, as my husband took the bus to work, then the metro, after we moved to Washington D.C.

And now we've owned her for 15 years. She's taken us almost 200K miles. She's been registered in four states. As long as I keep her pampering days down at 'the shop' scheduled, she never lets me down.

Eight years ago we bought her a companion. This time we got a few more upgrades (gotta love those power windows and window tints!) but stuck with the same company, and the same model. We're suckers for reliability, especially when it comes in spite of the hardship of hauling four children around.

Soon I will leave her behind, as I leave NY without her. She's just too elderly to make the trip. I'll find her a nice home before I go. But as much as she's worn out, and doesn't really smell all that great anymore, I have to tell you, it won't be an easy goodbye.

Ruby has seen our family through many stages of life. Her padded ceiling has absorbed our laughter and her cloth seats have been moistened by our tears. She's been privy to serious conversations, the kind that last long after you've parked in the driveway, but aren't quite done yet. She's cradled my children, from car seats to lap belts. Three of them have learned to drive behind her wheel.

And then there's the story that my boys swear is true, about an old Krispy Kreme donut that was placed (NINE years ago) deep in the storage bin behind one of the back seats. They say it was left there,'just to see what would happen to it'. I've never been brave enough to look myself, but I've witnessed several tours, given to my boys' friends, and the "EWWWW....!"s that followed, lead me to believe the story is true.

She's a ragged old beauty. She has a glitch in her electrical system that causes her wipers to come on randomly. You just have to be aware, so it doesn't scare you half to death, on perfectly sunny days. Every so often her interior lights will blink on their own and the 'you left your lights on' bell will ding and ding until she's gotten it out of her system. It's not a problem. Old people can be persnickety sometimes too.

But anyone who's owned an old truck (or a trusty old minivan) will understand. Sometimes love and loyalty comes from years and years of always being there when it mattered. Always taking us to new places, always protecting us on endless highways.

Ruby's seen a whole lot of this country. She is a part of our family, almost as much as our dog. But in just a few weeks I will have to say my goodbye. Just as I've done for a decade and a half, I'll tap her dashboard and tell her what a good girl she is. I'll tell her how much we appreciate her service and how stories will be told for years to come, about adventures that happened because she took us there.

Ruby was the van that wasn't supposed to be. She wasn't flashy or exciting. She wasn't the sports car I think she dreamed of being. But she was just the thing we needed, at just the right time.

Goodbye old girl. We may replace you with something fancier, in our new life in Colorado. But we'll never forget you. You grew up with our family.

You were definitely a part of us.


Anonymous said...

Your comment about the windshield wipers made us laugh. Our first minivan (different brand) had that same glitch. We even named our "gremlin" because it wasn't just the wipers that'd turn on, the doors would time-delay lock after we'd shut them (and the van didn't come equipped with delay locks!), the brake lights would come on randomly, etc. After we moved and needed a 4-wheel drive vehicle, we gave our minivan to an old friend, who drove it for years and then gave it to one of his friends...who discovered that there were pennies in the dashboard that were making sporadic contact with the electrical system and activating the wipers and everything else. Turns out our kids had stuffed A LOT of loose pennies into various cracks and crevasses....

Just One Foot said...

Hey, thanks for the tip! I'll have to have the person who ends up with her check for 'pennies'!

I laughed about your locks going out because Ruby will also flash her interior lights at you on random occasions. We always say she just wanted attention, so we'd start talking 'to' her and after a bit, she'd calm down.

I think it teaches kids character, to not always drive a brand new vehicle.

Thanks for the comment!


randompawses said...

Oh, my! We'd talk to our gremlin, too - we called ours either "Fred" or "George", depending on which system was acting up at the time! Cars with character do keep life interesting, don't they?