Yesterday, in my Facebook profile, I wrote a note about how I was tired of people who care too much about cars. Then I sat down to write this column, which is about how, after four weeks on Craigslist, we've said good-bye to our poor, down-and-out Dodge Grand Caravan--the first car we ever bought together, and the one we used to bring both our babies home from the hospital. Then I thought I was living a double-standard, because clearly I care a lot about cars if I was going to sit down and write a whole column about one. What I was referring to in my profile the other day, though, was an incident that has become a costly, huge Headache, with a capital "H," involving someone else's car--an incident I can't write about--so you'll have to live with that for now.
I get attached to things, and I have, in the past, been known to get attached to cars. When Scott sold his cream-colored Toyota hatchback, fondly referred to by us as "The Wedge of Cheese," I shed some tears. That was the car he picked me up in for our first date. I stood outside the NPR building where I worked in downtown D.C., shivering a bit in the cold December air, and watched Scott peel into the driveway in front of the building--he was about ten minutes late. That was probably the first and only time I have ever seen him rush anywhere--he was terrified that I would think badly of him because he was late, but he had to stop and refill the car's radiator with fluid on the way there. When he pulled up, there was a steady stream of steam wafting from under the hood. He made an impression, that's for sure.
But I truly loved our old white Dodge minivan. We bought it in March of 2000, when I was five months pregnant with L., and it was a 1994 model--which seemed so "new" to us, we who had owned very old cars in the past. The van wasn't perfect--it smelled of dogs when we got it, and had a couple of strange cigarette burns in the ugly gray upholstery (the previous owners had three teenage boys, according to the dealer). We were so proud of it, and so ready to embrace what it stood for: security, family, years of ferrying our child back and forth from place to place. I still remember the thrill of buckling in that first infant seat--months ahead of time, of course--and imagining what it would be like to have our own very little person back there. Months later, I logged so many hours sitting in the middle seat next to tiny L., trying to console him (it turned out he HATED the car), reading him books, contorting myself on long car trips as I tried to nurse him while he was still buckled in (I don't care what people say--I tried this with T., too, and this just can't be done. I'm sorry, but it can't).
The night I went into labor with T., we loaded poor, bewildered L. up in the van and drove the eerily empty roads to the hospital at 2:00 a.m. I can see L. now, sitting in the back, clutching his doctor's case and his Best Bear, his eyes wide with excitement and the awe of the moment. It was the last trip we took as a family of three in that van. We took baby T. home in the same white van, and to the hospital six months later for her surgery. It took us back and forth from work to home to work and home again, like an old, faithful horse that always knows the road, and always knows where home is.
If a house's walls can absorb years of living--years of drama, and laughter, tears, and hopes and dreams, I think a car can give shelter to these things as well. Our old Dodge did well by us. It drove the roads from New York and North Carolina to Maryland and Virginia and brought us safely back to loved ones on holidays and long weekends. It didn't always work right, but it was ours--our first family van--and I'll miss it. I think I really will.
Here we are, in front of the brand "new" van the day we bought it:
Buckling brand-new L. into the van, the day we came home from the hospital: