Tuesday, May 20, 2014

“Mom’s Car”

            My mother owned a 1999 Ford Taurus station wagon. The car, purchased by my parents two years before Dad died, came loaded with options they rarely indulged in when they purchased cars. The interior’s plush silver-grey upholstery contrasted sharply to all of the years of the cheap plastic seating of my childhood. Other upgrades included power windows, an air conditioner that blew Artic cold, and carpet with matching floor mats, and cruise-control. They even indulged in a cassette player instead of their basic AM/FM radio.
            Dad loved driving this car and my parents started making longer treks to visit relatives in Illinois and Arizona. They’d whip down IH-10 between San Antonio and League City every couple of months. When Dad died, Mom made certain to continue the car payments, and for the first time in her life owned a vehicle in her own name. Moving to her apartment in San Antonio meant she drove the car less than two miles to reach the grocery store, and so the car’s mileage stayed relatively low. When all of us decided to go to Louisiana, she insisted we take her comfortable car. She didn’t like driving long distances herself, so any road trips in Texas meant I’d drive her station wagon.
            For the first six months Mom lived in assisted living, her car sat in the parking lot. We’d use it to get her groceries or make a run to Sonic. Assisted living put a strain on her monthly budget, so after a while I suggested we take over her car—change it into my name so I could pay for the insurance, gas, inspections and repairs. I sold my own car and used hers to commute to-and-from work. Any time Mom needed to go anywhere, we still used her car since our Escape stood too high off the ground for her to climb into, and the RX8 slung down too low. And although I owned the car on paper, I never thought of it as anything but “Mom’s car.”
            As her illness robbed her of the use of her legs, we all grew to appreciate this station wagon. At first, Mom could step into the car on her own, but eventually we had to assist her from her wheelchair into the back seat. Getting her into the car required a pivoting motion to get her butt-in-chair followed by her lifting her feet into place. Then she would lean forward and hug the front seat with her arms as someone else maneuvered her into place and fastened the seat belt. The station wagon provided plenty of room for her, and I could sling her wheelchair into the back without problem. Now the car became transport to-and-from doctor’s offices with swings through drive-through eateries as we searched for the best chocolate milkshake. Mom loved eating out, and so we’d load her into the car once a week to head for one of our favorite places.
            After Mom died, I used the car less frequently. If I needed to haul something large, like bags of potting soil, I’d hop into the station wagon. Eventually, I’d use the car once a week to keep the battery charged. When the choke started sticking on the car, stranding me a few times, I began only looping it through our neighborhood once a week figuring if it stalled, I could still walk home. Nowhere in my mind did it occur to me to sell Mom’s car, though.
            Then sometime last week a reckless (or drunk?) driver scraped the side of the car, leaving dark paint transfer, but no note admitting fault. It became obvious that after a year-and-a-half, I needed to sell Mom’s car. I called my brother and sister to let them know of the damage to it, and my decision to sell it, but they have no emotional attachment to the vehicle. My husband and son revealed that the car reminded them more of those final months of Mom’s life—doctor’s visits and ER runs, than the wonderful trips to Shreveport.
            And so yesterday, I made certain to transfer the St. Christopher clip Dad had placed on the visor into the jewelry box that contains his favorite watch and college ring, and then we spiffed up Mom’s car one last time before taking it to the dealership. It will take me a long time, I think, before I’ll look out toward the front of the house and not miss seeing it parked on the curb.  
Copyright 2014 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman