Back in the Day

My post about my trusty Dodge Durango, and whether my teenagers were embarrassed about riding in it, got me thinking about my own years at Knoxville Catholic High School.  It’s true these days that not only does every student old enough to drive seem to have their own vehicle, but almost all those vehicles are in much better shape than mine!  But it was not always so.
The way I remember it, there were plenty of kids with licenses who still relied on their parents–or even the city bus (remember, we were just a stone’s throw from downtown in those days)–to get them to school each day.  Many of those who did drive were borrowing the family car.  The few who had their own wheels were grateful for whatever they had.
Two of my close friends had their own cars.  Kim’s was a red Volkswagen Rabbit with hubcaps she had painted Irish green. 
Clark’s was a baby blue Maverick (and the memory of four of us stuffed un-seat-belted in the back seat while he pretended to be in England by driving on the wrong side of the road is one reason  I don’t think teenagers should drive).

The rest of us borrowed our parents’ cars when they could spare them.
Katrice was the lucky one–her dad had a nice car, a Nissan Maxima that actually talked to you to tell you when you needed to buy gas.  Gina was stuck with a blue sedan with a bumper sticker proclaiming: “America, Protect Your Unborn!”
As for me, I don’t know how my mother can even talk about embarrassing cars given what I had to borrow if I wanted to drive to school.  Sometimes my grandmother let me have her Chrysler LeBaron, which had automatic windows and velvet seats.  I considered it an elegant ride and didn’t mind a bit about the front license plate which read: “Let Me Tell You About My Grandchildren.”  (When it was my sister Betsy’s turn to borrow Mima’s car, she used to take the license plate off every time and then reattach it before returning it!)

Usually, though, I ended up with the family car, a yellow Dodge Reliant popularly known as a K Car. 
We called it the lemon and not because of the color.   Unbeknownst to us, before it came to us it had been in a severe wreck and then reconditioned.  The damage began to show up pretty soon.  The driver’s side door stopped opening , so that I had to crawl in from the passenger side.  It did not have third gear, so its top speed was 50.  Best of all, the radiator had an unfixable leak.  So every afternoon when it was time to go home, I had to go out to the car, get a pitcher, go back into the school and fill it up with water, and then go outside to fill the radiator so I could drive home.
At least I did not have to walk barefoot through the snow. 🙂

On the Road Again

Back in June, John had a wreck while driving my car.  For once, it was not his fault (he is kind of famous for rear-end collisions, unfortunately).  But the other party disputes his version of events, and it looks like a lawsuit may be necessary (why, you may ask, has my attorney husband not ironed all this out by now?  Because “shoemakers’ wives go barefoot and doctors’ wives die young” and attorneys take their own sweet time when it comes to their own families’ legal affairs–or at least mine does.). [edit: He never did file that lawsuit.]
We rented a car for awhile and we’ve limped along as a one-car family for about a month, with constant assistance from my long-suffering mother.  See, my vehicle is so old and battered that we weren’t carrying collision insurance, and the damage was estimated at more than half its value. Finally we decided to ask my uncle and cousin (the owners of Bright’s Paint and Body in Strawberry Plains–out in the country, we used to call it) just to pound out the dents and make it driveable.  Assuming we recover from the insurance company, we can pretty it up some later.
So yesterday we picked up the car and really, it doesn’t look half bad–bloody,  but unbowed, because it was so beaten up to begin with.  And I felt a burst of affection as I drove away in it, with the almost-forgotten sensation of being high above the road, enjoying the lovely fall day as we drove home the long way down Thorngrove Pike.  When I come out to the driveway and see it sitting there, I am positively gleeful.  My feelings about it haven’t been so positive for a long time.
John surprised me with the car–it’s not really a car, it’s an SUV, a Dodge Durango to be precise–on my birthday, nine-and-a-half years ago.  I’d been wanting an SUV for awhile, because I wanted to be different from all the moms in minivans.  I’d always made fun of the families who ran out and bought a minivan upon the birth of their first child.  We had four kids by this time–William was not quite two months old–and we were shoe-horned into my grandmother’s old Chrysler LeBaron, with Jake in the death seat up front because he was the skinniest.  Of course, this was also the time that SUVs really took off and became the new soccer mom car, so I ended up being a cliche after all.
Oh, how I loved that Durango at first.  It had power windows and front and rear air and real leather seats and a CD player as well as a cassette player!  There were seats for all six of us and even room to bring home a friend.  It wasn’t new but it had only 24,000 miles on it and was no doubt originally owned by a somewhat more hip version of the proverbial old lady.
Then came one of the stupider days in my life.  I don’t feel like recounting the details at the moment, but I carelessly almost allowed myself to be run over by my own truck.  To be more accurate, I WAS run over, but miraculously only my foot and my leg.  Having watched the wheel of the Durango rolling up my leg towards the more vulnerable rest of me, and actually having the thought, “I guess this is it,” I no longer loved my erstwhile birthday gift.  I feared it and looked on it with suspicion.
And there was more to come.  Google “Dodge Durango and Oil” and you will read many tales of woe.  The engine burned up and the vehicle sat idle for months.  We bought an old minivan from a friend, and even though it was pretty grim I grew fond of its spaciousness.  We were a one-car family for about a year until we decided to put a new engine in the Durango.  But I was happy to let John drive it.  That was, I believe, when he had his series of rear-end collisions, which gave me new respect for the Durango.  Let me tell you, that thing is like a tank.  It’s been in so many wrecks and it comes away with a ding or two and some scraped off paint.
It became my car again after my second near-death experience, when a drunk driver rear-ended and totaled the minivan, hitting us so hard that we ran into the side of a house and knocked a hole in it.  The jaws of life and stitches were involved.  We were back to one car again, and I chauffeured John to and from court, and was grateful that there were seven seats in the car to hold our expanded family.
As SUVs go, the Durango is tiny.  Parked next to the $50,000 models that go on forever, it looks downright petite.  And, damn it, minivans just have a lot more space.  I’m carting two teenage boys who are at least six feet tall in this thing.  It’s got no leg room to speak of.  When Emily is home all three teenagers cannot fit comfortably in the middle row.  As the shortest, she has to sit in the way back with one of the little people, and she is far from enthusiastic about that.  The tailgate won’t open for some reason, which makes vacation packing difficult.  But it gets us where we need to go, and after all it has been through I am grateful for its seeming indestructibility.
My mother was upset when I told her we were going to drive the Durango as is, dents and scrapes and all.  She said the kids would be embarrassed. (William, who was listening, said, “No, I won’t!”)  But that got me thinking.  So many people have something in mind when they buy a car, just like I did when I first wanted the Durango.  I wanted it to show that I wasn’t like everyone else.  Others may want to show that they are cool, or wealthy, or knowledgeable about good cars, or trendy, or whatever.
What I love now about the Durango is that it is real.  I am not driving it to say anything.  I am driving it because it is paid for, and it still works, and it holds all my family and their stuff, and it gets us where we need to go.
[Postscript:  Here is how the Durango finally met its end.  I still miss it.]