When we first moved to Swank County in 1999, I drove a grey, spotless, 1987 Cutlass Ciera. The ‘grandma car,’ as we called it, was actually bought from my grandma in 1991. When she owned it, every night that car slept in her garage. The car was washed regularly, the inside smelled like new and it only had 3600 miles when I took possession.
Although it wasn’t my first car, (that was a candy-apple-red mustang that I had for one month–deserves it’s own whole story), or my second, ( a rusty, brown, Chevy S10 pick-up) or my third (a Ford Escort, blue station wagon) or my fourth (a Buick Century–you might be catching on to something here…), it was my first respectable grown-up looking car. That is to say four doors, no dents, no car payments.
The grandma car and I had many an adventure, I drove her back and forth across the country twice. She carried my husband and I off the day we were married. Together, man, woman and car, we headed off to a new life and a new country with all my belongings heaped inside. In fact it might not be the big 10 tickets, but the car, that my husband married me for.
The grandma car also brought my first child home from the hospital. She moved back from Canada to the states with us in a moving van.
She gave us nary a problem. She never was in the shop. She was roomy, she was comfy, she was…the car no one wanted to park next to in the school parking lot. That’s when I noticed for the first time what was going on around me in this new, swank place that I lived…
Yes, as I came out of my mom-in-a-new-location-fog, I clasped my one year old toddler to my hip and looked around the school parking lot. Mercedes, Lexus, BMW, Volvo, but no Oldsmobiles. Certainly not any 12 year old-mobiles of any kind. It was like a scene from the movies. Fresh from the land of salt and snow and American cars, I was surrounded by the upscale, expensive and new.
I rebelled and refused to see the grandma car in the eyes of my Swank County-ites. I stayed loyal. I drove her with pride. I didn’t park close to cars that made her look like less of an automobile–the grandma car was swank in her own heyday and in her own special way.
However, the State Department of Motor Vehicles felt differently. They said in order to keep driving the grandma car in Swank, she needed to pass the Smog Test. I took the old lady to the local garage, and they looked at my title and my Ontario license plates and said she was a “special case” and needed to go see a “special” smog station.
The “special smog station” didn’t quite know what to do with her. It was becoming a huge hassle, so my husband and I decided it was time to trade her in. It was a sad day, we left her behind in the rain. No one at the dealership could believe she only had 130,000 miles on her odometer. They said the trade in check was in the mail.
Three months later, no check. We called the dealership. “Oh, that’s your car. The check’s in the mail.” No check. Called the dealership, they asked me if we wanted the car back. No, I had a new car. I wanted my check. “You could sell it yourself for more money than the check we owe you.” No. I want my lousy $300 trade in check.
One day, I came home from grocery shopping and the grandma car was in my drive way. She was missing all four hubcaps, had empty bottles and food wrappers littering her once velvety, stain free seats. I found only one key in my mailbox–the ignition key. I WAS FURIOUS! She had been RAPED!
I called the used car manager and was very American. I talked lawyers and lawsuits. He begrudgingly said I could bring the car back, but I had to drive it there. I was fuming mad. I asked what had happened to my car. Apparently, they had the same problems we had passing the smog test and she was used for whatever sitting out in the lot.
The next day, the doors of that dealership closed. To this day, I wonder where the old lady is. Did she find love and happiness? Did someone take her under their wing? From time to time I see a grey cutlass and I wonder if it’s her. It’s like she’s never really gone if I didn’t see her compacted into a square of metal. She has a legend of her own, the Legend of the Grandma Car.
I’m feeling nostalgic. Folks, give your grandma car driving friends and your grandma sweater wearing friends a hug. Encourage them to hold their heads high. That is why you love them, don’t give them a hard time, just give them respect. Everyone loves me more now that I have a mini van–but I will always drive the grandma car in my heart. Even though I never got the trade-in check, it was a privilege just to know her.