Monday, September 23, 2013

On Losing.

Well, there's been a change in the family.

Our faithful loser cruiser has passed on, and I have to tell you, the girlies and I spent the better part of last week feeling pretty broken up about it.

As you may remember, during a rather dire moment in transit several days ago, it became apparent that the old girl's body was on its way out.  And for a change, I'm not referring to MYSELF.

The loser cruiser turned eleven this year, and in the end, she owed us precisely nothing.  She was average in many ways-- an extremely ordinary make and model, in a comforting shade of beige.  The unassuming colour hid dirt fairly nicely-- and even most of the rust that eventually began creeping out beyond the wheel wells, not to mention the crumbly lower edge of the back hatch.  It camouflaged so well, in fact, we often had a terrible time locating her in parking lots:  every damn mini van seemed to look exactly the same.

When the "panic" button on my key chain eventually conked out from over-use, we resorted to hanging a large pair of fuzzy sheep from the Loser Cruiser's rear-view mirror.  "I SEE SHEEP!!" is not usually a phrase you would imagine could bring vast feelings of relief, but it sure did to us, on many occasions.  (Although I suspect it thoroughly confounded anyone passing by us on the endless fields of asphalt).

She didn't seem to mind the indignity of being scraped down with a little wet/dry sandpaper every spring... nor the many layers of Bondo, or the Crappy Tire brand spray paint we repeatedly slathered on her problem areas.

She was also fairly co-operative and understanding when we took her to the doctor (mechanic), and negotiated about selective treatments for anything that ailed her over the years...  We carefully weighed the risks (to my bank account) with the benefits (to her happiness and longevity), and whatever the final decisions were, she cheerfully got us to wherever we needed to go.

Someone once told me that no one actually buys mini vans on purpose.  Apparently, after the third child is born, they just show up in your driveway as a public display that your life is pretty much over, for at least the next decade or two.

I would love to say that this is how our Loser Cruiser came to us, but that doesn't seem quite fair.  Because in many ways, that car saved me.

Nine years ago, I had just given birth to another tiny, perfect baby girl.  I was so proud of myself, only a few days postpartum, as I carefully strapped each little girlie into the back seat of my slightly creaky Volvo station wagon.  They were like little matryoshka dolls in a line, I thought (although each one had a different complicated and weird system to lock her safely into her respective car seat).

We had just hit the first highway en route to the grocery store, and I was feeling extremely self-congratulatory as I hummed along to Raffi's "Singable Songs" on the cd player.

Suddenly, there came an ear-splitting shriek from Child Number One, who was then seven years old:


I screeched over to the side of the road, leaped out of the car, and practically ripped the back door off its hinges.

Sure enough, there sat Terrible Two, then barely three years of age.  She was grinning happily, with a finger firmly jammed up each of the baby's nostrils.  Wee Three was desperately mouth-breathing for dear life, but amazingly, not making any fuss.  I think she was just as shocked as I was.

I picked up my cell phone, called the children's father, and screamed with all the self-control of a woman on the edge:

"WE.  NEED.  A.  VAN."

Suffice it to say the Loser Cruiser appeared, and once I could firmly ensconce my children out of arm's (and leg's) reach of each other, life went on.  And on.  And on.

I got my very first speeding ticket in that car:

Officer:  Morning, Ma'am.  Where are you off to in such a hurry?

Me:  (Gritting teeth and raising my voice over the intense wails coming from the rear of the interior)  I?  Am going to PRESCHOOL.

Or, alternatively, straight to Hell.  At that precise moment, I wasn't sure.

He didn't let me off-- he was clearly not a father.  But if he is now, by GOD I hope the mother of his children has taught him a few important life lessons.  

After that, the Loser Cruiser and I made a pact that if we were going to speed, we were going to have to really boot it, to ensure that we would outrun irritating police officers.

She never failed me after that.

Together, we hauled a multitude of kids, made countless grocery runs, and screeched up to emergency rooms in the nick of time.  We moved furniture, small trees, hysterical cats, and entire garden-loads of plants.  We drove-thru for gallons of coffee, for ice cream, for prescriptions and bank machines.

Her "fuel" light flashed on a fairly regular basis, but she always waited for me to be able to find a service station, rather than gasping her last in the middle of a busy intersection.  She was nothing if not polite.  She didn't want to inconvenience anybody.

She also had a great sense of fun.  One night, six children and I sneaked up on my best friend, blindfolded her, stuffed her through the back hatch of the trunk, and whisked her off to a surprise 40th birthday party, "gangster-style".  Those same six children and I also perfected a game in which we quietly waited by the side of a certain back road until the coast was clear, then revved up and barreled like maniacs over a series of large speed bumps, to a chorus of whoops and giggles.  Three of those kids eventually moved across the country, but whenever they come back to visit, one of the first things they request is always a speed-bump run.

Memorably, one year she became an impromptu Mother's Day card, when several small people (who shall not be named) sneaked out in the middle of the night and scrawled loving graffiti all over her in bathtub crayons, which rendered me speechless the next morning.  Needless to say, I got more than my usual number of perplexed stares as I proudly drove around for the next several days-- much to the children's mortification.  (That's payback, kids... I actually managed to preserve the yellow happy face drawn on my gas cap cover for months.)

She was a tough old gal, the Loser Cruiser.

We couldn't possibly have had respite away from home without her.  She got us to Stratford and back so many times, I swear, I don't even remember steering.  She always got us, and all the Stuff that went with us, where we needed to go.  My father was consistently alarmed by the sheer amount of luggage I regularly produced from the enormous trunk when we arrived.  ("Good Lord, HOW LONG ARE YOU STAYING???!")

In the summer, she was full of grass clippings and sand from bare feet.  She was caked with the salt and slush from small boots in winter.  She happily stored the kids' secret treasures in her back-seat pockets and hinged compartments, including one unpleasantly memorable container of chocolate milk that Wee Three was "saving for later"...  MUCH later.

She was the safe place where I took respite from a job I dreaded last year.  Every day at the lunchtime bell, no matter how cold or how hot the weather, I'd escape from my classroom, and drive till I found quiet parking lot away from school property.  I'd set the alarm on my phone, roll my seat back, and desperately attempt to relax.  Only then could I bear to face the afternoon.

Granadpa is quietly amused
This past summer, she made it through a mammoth journey to the place that was my childhood playground, south of the border, on the coast of Maine.  She chugged through the Green Mountains, carrying not only the girlies and me, but my parents, as well.  My dear old dad has a very bad back, and had compiled a long list of concerns about the car and the trip in general before we left.  But amazingly, throughout the journey, he pronounced our Loser Cruiser to be a resounding success, on both the comfort and reliability fronts.  (This was no small praise, I assure you.)

Our Maine Vacation turned out to be our Loser Cruiser's swan song.  Last week, emergency response to her "Check Engine!!" light resulted in a prognosis "nil".  

We returned to the dealer and settled on a rather splendid replacement, in a unique shade of grey, at a respectable price.  We were assigned a "trade-in" date...  and yet, our hearts sank.  It was quite ridiculous-- a melancholy reaction, to such a happy prospect:  hell, we hadn't been fortunate enough to be able to treat ourselves to something like this for years!

As the great day drew closer, the girlies and I were finally able to decide what was really bothering us.

We would miss her.  NOT the rust and the dangly exhaust pipe and the never-ending blinking dashboard lights, but rather, we would miss the SPIRIT of our trusty Loser Cruiser.

And this got us to thinking...  As long as we were indulging in nonsensical thoughts ANYWAY... What if we imagined our old girl to be a Buddhist?

What if our friend was just shedding her old shell, to take on the form of the new one?

It was decided.  

And once we had our story straight, we felt a whole lot better.

Last Thursday evening, as we prepared to pull out of the dealership parking lot, the girlies and I carefully hung Tony and Jude the sheep on the new rear-view mirror.

"Re-in-CAR-nation!!" proclaimed Child Number One, as we pulled out into traffic, roaring with laughter.

We may look a little different as we cruise down the street in our new ride...

But deep down, we're still happy to be Losers, and that's a fact.

1 comment:

merinz said...

The end of an era!It is possible to love cars. Not in the way men love cars though. They love the mechanics of them, and the sleek looks, us women love them for the memories they hold.

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