by Beth Burrell
Can an aging minivan be a metaphor for life?
I think of this as I drive our nearly 17-year-old minivan to Willie’s, an auto shop not too far from my home. I’ve never been there but Google has. I’m hoping Willie can replace our front bumper, cracked and drooping on the right and left. If he can’t shave off years, might he at least help the van look better? It’s running fine.
Just the day before I sat in my orthopedist’s office waiting for her to arrive, knowing the follow-up appointment wouldn’t reveal anything new about the pinched nerve in my lower back, that too often shot pain darts down my right leg. I knew she couldn’t take years off my body, but maybe she could help me feel better. Look better? Unlikely.
I pull into Willie’s and tell him why I’m there. He walks outside with me, quietly appraising the beat-up car, its pale blue bumper hanging on sadly. It shouldn’t fall off while I’m driving, he says. Looks okay. And yes, he can order a new one even though the car is edging toward 145,000 miles. What are numbers anyway, other than indicators of a vast and varied life?
We have depended on this car, its seven seats and ample cargo space since 2002. It’s seen us through more times than I can count. It is like an old friend. I ease into the driver’s bucket seat and feel at home. I know this car, its knobs, its levers. No bells and whistles, no blue tooth, no rearview camera. It does not beep when you back up or veer out of your lane, or let you know when another car is too close.
But it moves and rarely fails in that regard.
Can I hope for the same?
I left the doctor’s office in our newer smaller car, which unlocks without my doing anything, sensing the key in my coat pocket. The car starts as I punch a button, and the seat adjusts automatically to my small frame, moving me closer to the pedals. I appreciate these functions. But I don’t need them.
Our young adult kids (one in particular – you know who you are) make fun of the van.
It’s an eyesore.
It smells terrible.
The back windows don’t even roll down!
Yes, they know what all it’s done for us – back and forth to college with all their stuff, back and forth to the beach summer after summer with all of our stuff, and back and forth to the landfill to dump some of our stuff. Always there to carry us and our things wherever, whenever.
But its condition and very presence is kind of embarrassing to them. Why do we insist on keeping it? It’s dented and rusty, sagging with the weight of it all. And ridiculously out of fashion. My husband and I, slow to part with most things, tell them as long as one of them is still in college, we need it (she graduates next year and we’ll revisit then).
Several years ago, when the car’s transmission failed, we considered trading it in. My sister and her husband who regularly upgrade their cars and enjoy ribbing us about the van, were elated. At long last, we’d move on to something better.
We got a new transmission.
The doctor told me I was doing all I could under the circumstances – physical therapy, exercise, anti-inflammatories. Staying in motion. Perhaps I might return and get steroid injections? I consider this and decide to wait it out, knowing a time will come when I’ll probably beg for one. For now, I’m mostly okay and drive home.
I want promises that down the road when I’m hobbling with miles of wrinkles traversing my face, I’ll still be loved. That I’ll command something akin to the loyalty I feel for this metal friend waiting in the driveway for its next journey.
Where to next, it asks? Where to indeed.