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Saying Goodbye to the Family Car

I’ll admit I’m overly sentimental; I’ve been known to tear up at the national anthem, “Pomp and Circumstance,” and “The Wedding March.” and pray at funerals that the closing hymn won’t be “I Will Raise You Up on Eagle’s Wings.”  But over a car? Yes, a car recently set off a stream of tears.

Earlier this month, a friend asked if I knew anyone with used car for sale because her two post-college daughters had just boomeranged home and they needed wheels for work, school and possibly even an occasional errand to help out Mom. Since last summer, our1998 Jeep has been parked in the driveway with 100,000-plus miles, no plates, no insurance. I just hadn’t gotten round to selling or donating it.  I told my friend she could take it. I felt good, even magnanimous. That is, until I started cleaning it out.

It wasn’t so much what was inside the car; it was the decals on the rear windshield. While some people consider it gauche to plaster college and other decals across their vehicles, to our family, each sticker represented a significant rite of passage.

When we first bought the car, son #1 had graduated from high school and was off to college and son #2 was starting at the same boys’ school, so on went stickers for Cornell and the high school, symbolizing achievement and continuity (and years of tuition payments). A few years later son #1 completed the Marine Officer Candidates School so on went a circular Marine emblem. The small decal is hard to read from afar but several times other drivers, recognizing the symbol, beeped in acknowledgement. That support was meaningful, especially though two deployments.

Then came 2001, a year of good and bad memories, also symbolized by stickers. Son #2 went halfway across the country to Notre Dame for college and to join the lacrosse team so both the college and lacrosse stickers went on the car, two dreams realized. That year also brought the devastation of 9/11.  When son #2 came home for Thanksgiving break he put a World Trade Center memorial sticker on the car in honor of the dozens from our town who were killed that day, including several people he had caddied for at the local golf club. 

And then there was our youngest child’s high-school parking lot sticker, circa 2008. I clearly remember the bittersweet feeling on the first morning she drove off on her own.  While I happy to see her drive, I was saddened by the realization that my 20 years of morning and afternoon school runs were over; no more waiting for her after dance or play rehearsal or sports practice, and hearing her enthusiastic reports as she jumped into the car.

The last sticker to go on the car was her Boston College sticker, stuck on joyfully right after we got the acceptance letter.

I think my friend’s husband was a bit taken aback when he came to pick up the car. “Lots of stickers!” he said wryly. “How can you see out?”

No violins played but I did cry as the old Jeep went off into the sunset.  That night, I emailed son #2, who shares my sentimental bent.  “Yes, a ton of memories with that car,” he wrote back.  “And it’s weird to see it go, but it’s part of life.  And we’ll make new memories. And it was the right thing to do.”

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