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Eulogy for a Car

By Sandra Clark

View from the unwashed passenger window on the night of our last drive.

Last night realizing time was short we quickly piled the kids and an impromptu picnic into our eighteen year old sun-bleached blue Honda civic.  Never turn in a car with extra fuel in the tank, we thought. So Sunday evening drive we must.  We drive west in near silence, chasing the sunset through miles of fields and orchards. Unidentifiable greens erupt from the soil phasing in, bare walnut tree silhouettes fading out. The end of one era and the necessary beginning of another. Funny, I thought we hoped we could drive the car figuratively into the ground; it will be literal instead. You can check my review here to know more about our car.

The car coughs, rattles, clanks and vibrates, straining to go and go and go as it always has. Perhaps this inanimate object of a family member is somehow imbued with the knowledge that this really the end; its replacement has already taken over the garage. It’s just a car, and not even a fancy one, but it’s feels like a loss letting it go. 

I did a double take when my husband walked back in the door twenty minutes after leaving for work at the end of September. The little Civic was the jelly filling of a five car sandwich less than a mile from our house. Bumpers scraped and jostled, frame bent.  We knew our car was done for. The responsible parties’ insurance took months to come to the same obvious conclusion. When your car has the blue book value of one semester’s tuition at BYU, you know auto body salvation isn’t likely. Battered but not completely beaten, we kept driving they bruiser waiting for the claim to clear. Finally the shop announced they’d take the car and total it on Monday. The time for an unexpected, but necessary change had come.

On the ride home we waxed nostalgic about the eras this car has driven us through: my husband’s teenage years filled with less than legal car tricks (get more information from his parents’ since they purchased the car new as the kid car [yeah, mine didn’t do that]), this was the car he had in college when we met, he taught me how to drive stick shift in it, which we also strained over as we made out because it seemed more chaste than the back seat. The car became ours the day we drove away from our wedding reception with the windows covered in shoe polish scrawl.   Each of our babies rode home from the hospital strapped into the back seat with the next size up car seat bought to fit that tiny back seat. We’ve witnessed miracles in that car- it was saved by a kind shop in San Francisco when an old lady t-boned it an intersection when the damage was a stack of nickles away from a total loss because they knew we looked like we would be rubbing nickels together without that car. The year I bought milk in glass bottles ended abruptly when I took a sharp turn and broke one all over the passenger side; yet again the heavens smiled upon that car and somehow it didn’t smell like old cheese afterward (baking soda and vinegar FTW). I’ve said more prayers than I can count holding that wheel begging for yet another miracle of some sort. Not all of them were answered and our kids still got carsick in it anyway.

We’ve  zig-zagged it all over the country as we’ve moved and moved and moved and moved. So many of our memories are have been shaped in the compact carriage of that car.

For years we’ve wondered when we’d move on to the next thing (or when we could even afford it). Somehow it felt wrong to just get rid of it too soon and we’d talk hopefully that we could pass this little piece of family history on to the kids for their use. But it didn’t happen that way. Instead with the odometer reading 159, 773, I surrendered our old friend, little blue today.  It’s necessary replacement is nice, and so much quieter to drive, and has lots of fancy features (like unbroken sun visor clips, uncracked cup holders, working power locks and interior lights!); we are excited for that, but I can’t help but feel a little nostalgic for the car that has taken us so far.

Have you lost a good car too?

About Sandra Clark

Sandra Clark Jergensen's writing (most often about food) has been published in Gastronomica, Apartment Therapy, The Exponent, and at Segullah, where she was once the Editor-in-Chief, and now as Features Editor. Sandra geeked out on food and writing as a master's student food studies at University of Texas, Arlington. She makes her home in California where she runs without shoes, foster parents, teaches cooking, develops recipes, and struggles to take pictures with her eyes open, and sometimes all at the same time. She is the owner and creator of thekitchennatural.com.

8 thoughts on “Eulogy for a Car”

  1. We sold our 15-year-old Prizm before we went to Kyrgyzstan the second time. We'd stored it the first time when it was ten years old, but it was just too old and had too many miles and our children were getting too big to all fit in the back seat to make it worth storing the second time. It moved 11 times with us, lived in five different states, and did two cross-country drives. It brought all three of our children home from the hospital. It took me on weekly trips to Yellowstone. My husband drove it all over eastern Pennsylvania. We drove many hours in it to visit family for Christmas four different times. It got truly amazing gas mileage and saved our budget. We cheered when it hit 200,000 miles. I wil always miss that car.

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  2. sandra, i had to laugh as i read this because i actually have fond memories of your car. as matthias' cousin, i spent some scary moments experiencing those car tricks in the back seat of the honda while driving the streets and freeways of california. i also learned to drive stick in that car, although ryan was the one who taught me. the blue civic was a good little car.

    i still mourn the loss of our corolla that we had to trade in when we had our third child and simply couldn't fit three car seats in the small back seat. i miss zipping around in it and i especially miss parking with it when i'm trying to maneuver our minivan around parking garages. a good, reliable car, filled with memories is a great thing.

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  3. We, too, have an old blue Honda Civic (1994). Ours has a few more miles on it (240,000+), the front driver's side window leaks when it rains, the door handle on the inside of the driver's side door is broken requiring the driver to hold it together in a specific way to get the door open, and the cloth interior is stained with all manor of memories. Yet when my husband talks about getting a new commuter car, I just can't seem to give him the go ahead to replace the hot rod (ironic, but loving moniker for our little car). I know the day is coming when we will have to replace the Civic, but every day I will it too last just a little longer because I'm ready to let go yet. On the flip side, I do worry about what in the heck you do with a car that has very little worth other than the memories.

    Thanks for the post.

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  4. Oh my gosh, so many errors. First, manner, not manor, of memories. Then it should be to, not too, last just a little longer. And finally, I'm NOT ready to let go yet. Geez, I should have taken a brief moment to edit.

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  5. Thanksgiving weekend, my daughter and I were out running errands when I got a text from my son, telling me that he and my husband were also out running errands. I texted back, asking if he was at the car dealership. My son, aghast, looked at my husband, "Dad, how did she know?" My husband started laughing, and said, "She knows me." He had gotten into his Explorer that morning and found that the passenger door needed to be pulled toward the driver to open. Since he had been living with the driver seat at a 135 degree angle for months, and the back passenger door hadn't opened in years, plus the car had decided to just stop working occasionally, yep, I knew exactly where he was.
    At the dealership, when I went back with my husband later that day, I jokingly commented, "Do you need a minute?" This car had been in our family longer then the kids had. It had seen us through two states, countless vacations, taking both kids home from the hospital, and everything else a family car does. My husband looked at me, smiled and responded that he was fine, but *I* might need a minute.

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  6. Debra- Lovely to hear from you and to know you also share memories of that car. We still refuse to kick our small car habit. The replacement car is even more snug- a Honda Insight, and our second car is a microvan, a Mazda 5 that I adore and by measurement still a compact car.

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