Ode to a Van

So we junked our van today. Just a car, right? If it’s just a car, why do I feel like crying?

In 1995, our new family, just married the year before, replaced Bette’s old Chrysler Fifth Avenue “Blue Whale” with a brand new Dodge Ram Conversion van. Brand shiny new, with captain’s chairs, interior rope lights, and a fold down bed. With a loud stereo, the salesman made sure to turn it up load. Sarah was hooked. With a cassette player and EQ. I was freaked out. It was $24K.Too much. We got it anyway. We were living large. Then we got a trailer hitch.

Just a car.

But where did we go in that car? To Florida with Joe and Grace, when we ran into 3 Spring Break traffic jams and didn’t get to Sanibel until 3AM. To the east coast, with Sarah, Joe and Grace, stopping at several colleges, like Denison and Sarah’s Grandpa’s alma mater, Indiana U, Miami of Ohio, U of Pa in Pittsburgh, with a three day stay in a friend’s house on Cape Cod. Bette driving through New York City. Driving up north in an ice storm to go skiing at Powderhorn in the UP. Towing the canoe from house to house, up to Rhinelander and Fran and Barb’s property, and back to Waupaca. Moving Karin to DC, and Bryan to Kansas City, and then to Louisiana. Untold moves of friends, Sarah’s friends, our house three times. Packing the 3 nonagenarian aunts and Joe and Grace off to Natchez, Miss. for Bryan and Shelia’s wedding, when on the way home the muffler fell off. I spent many a comfy lunchtime napping on the seat when I couldn’t sleep after a long night of homework.

Just a car.

And the school days. We were the unofficial driver parents, since the van could hold Sarah and her group of 5 BFF’s. Bette loved it, and we were the most informed parents ever. The girls would sit in the back and chatter on, and must not have realized we were sitting 5 feet in front of them. Maybe they considered us the chauffeurs. We knew all the scoop, and some of it was important. The van got us that information.

Just a car.

The van took its licks, just like any human. Bette got hit once at an intersection, collapsed the side. Fixed it. I backed into something, collapsed the tire bracket on back. Fixed it. It just kept going.

Just a car.

Toward the end, the transmission was slipping at night when it got real cold. I barely got started out of the parking lot at night. Bob said $1500 to fix. The dashboard lights didn’t work. Hundreds in labor to disassemble the panel. Rust everywhere — I tried to fix it with Xruyst? and spray paint, and managed only to get paint spray on the windshield. The driver’s door was falling off – literally – and the lock area was rusting out. Dwight’s Auto Body in Woodstock managed to open up the door and weld the hinge back together and mounted a custom stainless steel plate to give the lock something to bite. The alternative was a new junk door. The doors didn’t seal well when they were new, and now they were loud and windy. The right speaker didn’t work in the rain — it made horrible sounds and you had to turn off the radio.

Just a car.

I feel the same way as watching Bandit for the last year. Or Joe. They get more and more feeble, you are more careful. Don’t open the driver door if you can help it, or risk breaking the lock. Just whisper “go” as you step on the gas and hope a car doesn’t appear too fast before 1st gear catches.

So Wednesday night I am meeting Bette at Kristensen’s to have the Volvo worked on. I stopped at Armanetti’s to get some cheap wine, and when turning the wheel to leave, heard loud crunching. Got out, kicked the tire. Looked OK. Pulled out onto 47. 10 feet later, tried to merge into the lane. No steering, I turn and the car goes the other way. I was able to pull into the National Car Rental parking lot and called for a tow. I looked under the car. The frame had rusted away so the tie rods had nothing to anchor on, and a lever without a fulcrum is a bar of steel.

Bob thought we had a chance. But I got the call at work. Terminal.

Spent a sad hour cleaning out the car. All my junk. The harmonicas. The water keys. Two tubes of sand for the winter. The license plates and garage door opener. 15 years of napkins and straws saved. The blankets. My Snuffles bear. Some pictures. Then a gentle tap on the hood, and drive away. A lot like giving Sarah that last squeeze.

Two words: undercarriage wash.

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