Thursday, July 18, 2019

Goodbye First Car

Earlier this week I had to take my car to the mechanic for some repairs. I brought M with me so he could clean all the stuff out of his car, which had joined the 100 or so other Volvos in the bone yard out back after it died two days before graduation. After we'd cleared out the tennis rackets and school notebooks, loose change, rearview mirror ornaments, and yerba mate cans, after we'd taken off the license plates and removed the registration from the glove box, I gave them a few minutes alone together.

The black wagon was only "his" car by dint of an overindulgent father and a mother who prefers not spending all of her time carting kids around. Yet once he had the keys in his hand, he started calling "my car," and no one contradicted him, except for a perceptive and indignant younger brother.

We didn't intend to send M to college with the car, and so the parting would have happened even if the engine hadn't blown. Knowing this did not make the moment of goodbye less poignant. There was a summer's worth of transportation needs to consider, aside from the fact that it was his first car. A boy's first car is a big deal. It means freedom, especially where we live, miles from the nearest sidewalk, bike path, or bus. Like a tribal coming-of-age custom, driving is the bridge from childhood into manhood.

I have before me for this summer and the fall (and quite possibly the next ten years) the project of clearing our house of the trappings of childhood—the story books and stuffed animals still crammed in the twins' closet, boxes and bins of blocks and Legos and wooden toys piled in the basement and garage, bicycles to match every stage of childhood, pint-sized lifejackets, three-quarter length sleeping bags, Matchbox cars, plastic dinosaurs, wooden trains.

Each of these things is weighted with memories, with hopes and possibilities, disappointment and fulfillment. We imbue material items with too much value and emotional power in our culture, and I tend toward the sentimental. C doesn't help, with all his talk of "save it for the grandchildren."

The car was easy, for me—being pronounced dead at the mechanic's shop, letting it go entailed little effort, no rereading of pages or stroking worn fur, no packing into a box and delivering to the thrift store. The car is not connected to that time, long gone, when my children were children. But for M, too young and too practical for nostalgia and more interested in the future than the past, this more recent parting will likely hold significance until he hangs his wooden pineapple from the rearview mirror of another car.

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