I’ve always liked small, fast, sporty cars, and I was the only girl in high school who toted around a copy of Motor Trend or one of my father’s car magazines instead of Seventeen or Young Miss.
My father liked big cars, the bigger the better, a la Buicks that could easily haul small airliners or zoo animals or freight pallets. Our tastes in cars were worlds apart. I couldn’t stand the giant, road-hogging, gas-chugging buses he drove, and I couldn’t wait to get my first car, something small and cool and fast, something that would never be mistaken for a tank.
My first car was a 2-seater, a beautiful hunk of metal I babied, washed, detailed, and waxed with adoration. I could never see myself in a four-door, a sedan, or *gulp* the worst…a mini-van!
After Gary came home, minus his car, it became painfully obvious that my tiny car that comfortably seated maybe two (if they were under 5’5″ or so) was not going to work to cart around me, Gary, and 4 kids. So I headed to the car lots, ready to trade in my trusty little single-woman car for something bigger.
I almost cried the first few car-shopping trips Gary and I took. I hate SUV’s and vans, but the family cars were large, clunky, heavy, old-lady mobiles that may as well smell of moth balls and Ben Gay. I would sit in the driver’s seat, trying to like it, trying to convince myself it could be jazzed up and sporty…then tear out of the whale of a car and fling myself back into the tiny, comfortable seat of my dinky car, while Gary came trailing back to me with a knowing smile.
The process took several months, and I test drove every large car that has been manufactured, hating each one. One day Gary and I finally drove by a silver four-door with a spoiler and tinted windows, and he said, “That’s no granny car!” I test drove it, detoured into a large empty parking lot, and stomped the gas. The car took off like a bullet, and I actually felt my stomach lurch at the burst of acceleration. As I brought the car to a stop, I was grinning.
Yesssss! It’s big but it’s fast!
That silver car has been my new ride for a few months now, and I still love it. I wash, vacuum and detail it every week, and I still admire it as I approach it in the parking lot. I’ve received several compliments on it, and I beam like I gave birth to it.
One of the first days I was driving alone, I flipped through radio stations and paused for a country song I liked, leaned back in the seat, comfy and content, then suddenly burst out laughing. I couldn’t help but picture my father in one of his giant cars, listening to country, with me in the passenger seat cringing, dreaming of sports cars, vowing to never drive a big old car and be such a dork.
My father died while I was still driving that first car, the tiny 2-seater. He never met Gary or the kids, and he would be highly amused to see baby wipes, a first aid kit, and random toys in my car now.
One of his last days alive, I washed my miniature car in the driveway as he washed his gigantic Buick, a habit he took on only when I started spending my Saturday mornings fussing over my car. Every now and then he’d look over at me from his car, squinting, thinking, then toss out a suggestion or tip to make this or that shinier, an idea to clean this, then he’d shrug and turn back to his car indifferently. I smiled to myself, knowing that after years of butting heads and clashing like life-long warriors, this was his awkward way of finally bonding with me in some small way.
He surprised me by striding over to the flower bed beside the porch, picking a small bunch of lily of the valley, and handing them to me wordlessly before he went back into the house. Given that my father and I were more likely to exchange cold words than flowers, I was startled. I put the lily of the valley into a small vase in my old room at my parents’ house, said good-bye to my mom, and left.
My father died the next day. The first thing I saw when I walked into my old room was the lily of the valley near the window, the first and last flowers from him. We had talked about how delicate its scent is, how no perfume or scented candle gets it right. We had talked about cars. But mostly we hadn’t talked about anything at all.
I bought a new first aid kit for my car today, and as I tucked it into the console, I could almost hear my father howling with laughter at his too-cool, sports-car-obsessed daughter packing baby wipes and antiseptic in the front seat. I also know that, after strolling around the car for a detailed inspection, complete with concentrated frowns and thoughtful head nods, his first question would be the same as the day I brought home that 2-seater:
“Can I drive it now?”