When I went off to college in 2000, my parents let me have the family GMC pickup truck as my vehicle for the year. It was a large, candy apple red truck with flames painted on the front. It was flashy, useful and definitely not me. When I got ready to go back for my sophomore year, I asked if I could take the Oldsmobile instead. 
The 1997 Oldsmobile Cutlass had joined our family after the unexpected death of my grandfather on November 11th, 1998. I remember talking to my grandpa about his pursuit of a new car and he was complaining that cars have weird names these days like “Intrigue”. Apparently he opted for a more classic name like “Cutlass” and purchased this green sedan new from the dealer in Fergus Falls. In November of ‘98, he and my grandmother were in the car getting ready to drive into town. The car apparently became stuck in the snow in the driveway and he got out to shovel. As he was doing that, he suddenly passed away and fell in the snow near the vehicle. Through a series of circumstances, our family “inherited” the car.

My parents granted my request to bring the Oldsmobile to school for my 2nd year and I felt much more comfortable with the sedan over the flashy truck. Eventually, I took over full ownership of the car.

This was the car that I drove from Roseville to Northfield, MN, a couple times a month during my sophomore year to call on a young lass named Becky Rutka at St. Olaf college. We took the car on many dates over the next 4 years. We took a road trip to Kansas for a wedding in the car. When we married, the Oldsmobile was our “getaway car”, all decked out by the wedding party. I remember returning from our honeymoon to find the car still sporting “Just Married” in soap and having to wash it off. We also drove this car to the hospital in St. Paul twice to give birth to our two boys. Those are very fond memories.

I also remember the time the alternator died in St. Anthony on my drive home to Columbia Heights from work. I jumped it and was able to get it to a mechanic for a very expensive replacement. I also remember when I slid on an icy patch in a blizzard and hit a curb. One of front wheels bent sideways and looked like it was going to fall right off. That was an extremely expensive repair which came at a bad time since I’d just purchased an engagement ring. I had to rent a car while the Olds was in the shop – mostly just so I could drive to pick up the ring on time. The drive belt broke on another drive home and I had to park it in a rough neighborhood and walk home to call a tow truck.

The car had many nagging issues that I kept meaning to address: a rust spot near the gas cap, chipped paint on the roof, a missing passenger side mirror, broken rear defrost and no A/C this summer. Still, this was my car and it fit me somehow. I figured I would drive it into the ground.

The ground came unexpectedly earlier this month. After driving fine for two short trips earlier in the day, I got in the car to go pick up dinner and the engine rattled wildly before dying. I knew right away this could be the end. A mechanic confirmed it a day later – the engine had broken down and wasn’t worth replacing. The car had breathed its last. They gave me $100 for it to salvage any parts they could use.

Besides the inconvenience of not having my car (and the stress of having to shop for a replacement), I find myself really missing my old car. The fond memories of good times with the car is one thing, but there’s also the fact that this car was a tangible link to my grandfather. The driver’s seat featured a small burn mark on the cushion that is undoubtedly the result of a dropped cigarette that must have really made grandpa jump at the time. That mark always made me remember him. It made me remember how he would go outside and walk up and down his driveway smoking a cigarette, bringing in the mail. How he would lie down on their couch and turn on the radio to listen to the afternoon Twins game and fall asleep. The seemingly random math equations written on slips of paper tucked into his desk. The weekly newspaper TV listings sitting on the table with “This Old House” circled. The shiny, new Cub Cadet lawn mower he bought and probably sat on more than he sat in his car. The corn crib on their farm that was full of junk, except when he would empty it out before our visits so we could play in it. His never-ending battle against gophers and badgers digging up his lawn and the traps he would warn us about. And his squinting smile and chuckle as he told a story about getting a coughing fit at a restaurant that made his dentures fall out.

I guess I won’t miss the car all that much.


One thought on “Goodbyes

  1. Pingback: 300 Posts in 13 Years | Stargazing in Winter

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