Thursday, October 17, 2013

Farewell, Old Friend

In college, I had a quirky creative writing professor who gave us an assignment at the start of the semester that I've never forgotten.  She had us write an entire paper devoted to the bumper stickers on our cars, perhaps thinking these stickers would provide windows into our creative minds or souls.  I think she was greatly disappointed with my paper, because at the time, the only sticker on my little, hunter green Dodge Shadow was an uninspired Pedro's South of the Border decal.

I've driven just two other cars as my own since that freshman year of college.  The second car, a beautiful blue 1995 Mustang, was a generous gift I probably didn't deserve but one I loved with all my heart.  After totaling the Shadow, my father went on the hunt for a car to replace the Shadow.  It had to be safe - airbags were a must - with low miles and at a good price.  The Mustang proved to be all of those things, and I became the somewhat incredulous owner of a pretty nice ride.  I kept minimal decals on it - only a college sticker, plus an Indy Racing League sticker, providing predictable insight into my psyche:  I loved our college, where I'd spend such happy years of my life; occasionally, I felt like a badass racecar driver in my sporty coupe.  (Thankfully, the accident with the Shadow made me a much more cautious driver, so I didn't actually drive much like a racer those days).

I drove the Mustang for the rest of my college years and into my life as a married adult until finally, in the last months of my pregnancy with Aidan, I could barely squeeze behind the wheel with my big belly.  After Aidan was born, Jeff and I swapped cars, but I never stopped thinking of the Mustang as mine.  Apparently, Jeff hadn't either.  As much as he enjoyed my car, he wanted his own car back - after all, he'd bought it brand new, custom to his specifications.  Alas, the day had arrived.  With a one-year-old in tow on a blisteringly hot August day in 2005, we bought a minivan to replace a Mustang. As minivans go, I thought we'd scored on a good one.  It came equipped with a VHS player, (!!) and power sliding doors; it was quiet, with low mileage.  Much as I'd viewed the Mustang as a 19 year old, as a mid-20s new Mom, I saw the minivan as somewhat of a status symbol.  I felt I had arrived.  

(That doesn't mean I didn't cry copious amounts of tears, though, after the selling of the 'Stang.  I kissed it, loved it, posed with it on our last day together:)

And so, as I watched my beautiful blue baby drive off into the fading sunshine, I turned toward my really beautiful baby, loaded him into our new van, and began a new journey.  In its 8 years with us, our van has carried us safely to many destinations and on many adventures.  We've visited parks and playgroups, pediatricians and preschools. We've traveled to beaches and campsites, airports and museums.  We've schlepped thousands of pounds of groceries in it, and as our family continued to grow in size, we've ferried tiny pounds of newborn babies in it.  We've swept it clean of pine needles from Christmas trees, billions of bits of ground up Cheerios, and once, a fermented apple that had been so completely reduced, it was but a putrid, reeking mess.  Our van has been inhabited by many a friend and family member, as well as some famously uninvited guests:  this summer, the wolf spider.

But all good things must come to an end.  My criteria for cars has always been that it must provide a method of transportation that gets us from point A to point B.... safely.  And our poor old van just wasn't living up to that standard anymore.  With a big road trip looming next month and the increasing number of clinks, groans, and shudders emanating from beneath the hood, we knew the final hour was approaching.

But still.... as my quirky college professor must have known, it's not easy to say goodbye to this:
The happy people who adorn the left side of the window (painstakingly designed for a whopping sum, an embarrassing amount to admit to spending on stickers).  Oddly, I grew more attached, more protective of these little people after the random act of vandalism was committed against Jeff's likeness. (His was cruelly and maniacally ripped off in one stealth swoop.  Still baffled by that one.)

And then there's the rest of them to part with.  If my college professor were to find me now, and give me that same assignment?  I'm not sure where I'd even begin.  For each sticker holds a story, a memory, an important milestone in the life of this family.  The space on the back of the van was precious real estate; a sticker had to earn its right to be there.

The college decal collection has grown to include
  • the polarizing political stickers that invoke many glares in this overly-red little pocket of the purple state of Virginia; (one such sticker even provoking a heated exchange in the Target parking lot, resulting in promises from each of us to pray for the other)
  • the requisite SMCM and UVA stickers;
  • the resume of races completed;
  • the vague references to beautiful births and the importance of breastfeeding, the latter of which was obtained by Jeff from the lactation consultant he met in nursing school, whom he affectionately dubbed "The Milk Nazi;" 
  • the local bar we love best for draft beers; 
  • the family's beloved local radio station;
  • the shelter for homeless residents we support in the coldest months;  
  • the reminder to be brave, assertive, and strong; 
  • and the newest and perhaps my very favorite sticker of all, loved both for its subtle nuance and direct imperative: "Make Dinner Not War."
That is to say, our stickers represent some of the very best of our lives these past 8 years.

So when we welcomed the new arrival today, Aidan closely inspected the interior and exterior of the car, tried out the power windows and doors, fiddled with the radio and air controls, adjusted the seat, then asked with sudden urgency, "But Mom, how are you going to get all of the stickers transferred onto this car?"
Answering softly, I said, "We're not, buddy..." realizing, at that very moment, that if this same van that seems so shiny and new and young sees us through another 8 or so years, the sticker I'll be adding then? in 2022? is the collegiate sticker of where my firstborn chooses to earn his degree.  The realization that just as our old van safely carried home our tiny newborn babes, this new van might very well be the one that gets packed to its silver gills with dorm life necessities.  

With that sobering thought, I think we'll keep her just like this for now....

What a view this backseat offers.

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