My first car was a 1985 Mazda 626. White, four-door, blue interior. Radio with a dial and a little red line, cassette player, manual locks. My parents bought it in 1990 before my senior year of high school. It was a great car.
I drove that car to college. Actually, that’s not entirely true. I rear-ended a Chevy Blazer on the way home from Lauri Palermo’s graduation tea and crunched the front end. Since we only carried liability insurance, my sweet Mazda stayed at my parents’ house until the end of my freshman year, when we finally scraped up enough cash to get it fixed.
The next week, The Wrath of God hit the Baylor campus. Locally known as the Great Hail Storm of 1992.
But still, my little Mazda and I stuck together, and I took her to College Station during my junior year. We spent the weekends driving back and forth to Waco, since Michael was still there and I kinda loved him.
After graduation, I took my Mazda to Houston. She was now ten years old, bless her heart. Michael had a 1991 Accord, and since he biked to medical school and I worked in the city, I drove his car. My little Mazda stayed under the carport outside our condominium.
Four years later, we welcomed Meghan into our family, but I didn’t drive her in my Mazda very often. My fourteen year old car was getting a little wheezy and unreliable. So I finagled Meghan’s carseat in and out of Michael’s Honda. His two door Honda. With no locking seatbelts. Which required a locking clip.
You youngster moms have probably never seen a locking clip. Lemme tell ya. You have it good.
(Pardon me while I change my support hose and take out my teeth.)
Finally, at fifteen years old, my sweet Mazda failed the state emissions test – which was our threshold for ownership. We called the American Heart Association, who towed my faithful car to an auction.
Farewell, old friend.
My mom asked me if I was sad to see my car go. I would be, I told her, if I didn’t have a brand-spankin-new Camry sitting under the carport.
We drove Michael’s Accord for three more years. To keep the car running, we paid to have the A/C removed (which is about seven different kinds of wrong). The windshield leaked water whenever it rained, then the car would smell like mildew for a week. We drove from Houston to Florida one time, and when the rain came down – and inside – I held a diaper against the window to save us from the mildew. When Michael’s brother moved overseas and lent us his 1999 4Runner, we gave our Accord to Gretchen and BJ (whose car had just died) – along with a thousand apologies for the windshield and the lack of A/C.
With the arrival of Kid #3 in 2004, we traded the Camry for a minivan. The thought of being a Mom In A Loser Cruiser horrified me, but I grew to love my van. Seven years later, I still do. Sort of. I’m tiring of it, and I’m drooling over the Honda Pilot. But first the van has to die.
We drive cars until we can’t drive them anymore.
And the 4Runner, which we eventually bought from his brother, is no exception. It has 186,000 miles on it and gets about twelve miles to the gallon. The mats have holes worn in them. The fenders are dented. The front license plate skews upward, and the radio antennae (yes, it actually has one of those) has been stuck in the down position for several years. The window shield is a maze of large cracks and dings.
Last week, Michael backed out of the garage before he realized Griffin had not closed the rear passenger door. It caught on the side of the garage and hyperextended. With no small amount of grunting, Michael closed the door, but it wouldn’t open again, and opening the adjacent driver’s door required some effort.
We Michael briefly considered repairing the doors, but we couldn’t justify the cost of repair versus the assumed trade-in value.
The 4Runner was not aging gracefully, a fact we recognized every time we wrecked him took him for routine maintenance. We knew his days were numbered.
We won’t call the 4Runner The Crap Car, which is what some of our friends laughingly labeled him. We’ll just say he is a Car Past His Prime. Or perhaps A Car Who Has Served Us Well.
A man at our church, who has five kids of his own, gave us valuable advice – something he did himself. When your child is around thirteen years old, buy a reliable used car, drive it for three years, then give it to your newly-licensed child. Then buy yourself another reliable used car, and repeat.
We liked that idea.
Last weekend, Griffin’s soccer team played a tournament about an hour from our home. Meghan had dance rehearsal, so we weren’t going to join them until the last afternoon game. After lunch, Michael called to inform me that he and Griffin are in the parking lot of the pizza place because the 4Runner’s key will not turn in the ignition. He wiggled the steering wheel, he tried to shift the car into neutral. Nothing.
Oh, and by the way, there’s a Honda dealership down the street.
The stars have aligned, the Spirits of Used Cars are smiling down upon us…
Or God Almighty is shouting, “WILL YOU GET RID OF THIS CAR ALREADY?”
Eight and a half hours (and one brutal game loss) later, we leave the dealership with a new-to-us 2008 Honda Accord, a smiling husband, and a very happy 12 ½ year old girl. Silver, four door, 23000 miles. Perfect for driving well into 2025.
The 4Runner? He’s still stuck at the pizza joint. We’ll deal with him later. We’re hoping to find a charity who can tow and auction it – but we’ll need to work out the logistics. I really don’t want to drive an hour to supervise the exchange.
Today, my friends, another great car has earned his wings and flown off to Car Heaven, where he was joyfully greeted by a 1985 Mazda and a 1991 Accord. “Welcome,” they say. “We have been waiting for you.”
The cars gather and share stories of fender benders, spilled chili in the front seat, baby puke in the back seat, lost sippy cups full of curdled milk. They tell of journeys through the vast wasteland of Houston and the cornfields of Iowa. They reminisce about music played through their crackling speakers – 80s hair bands, praise & worship, preschool singalongs.
As they converse, the soul of a new vehicle forms nearby, slowly birthing itself into being, anticipating its eventual home. The angel cars smile and beep their horns, for they know this new vehicle will serve their former owner well.
The 1985 Mazda putters over to this new creation and whispers,
“Be good to her, 2013 Pilot…”