Beyond the warning, before the eulogy

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I googled “love of inanimate objects”; it is called “objectophilia.” I do not think that this term does my love justice for two reasons: the first is that the love I am describing is not sexual, and the second is that the object in question is not exactly inanimate. It is my car.

My car is an aging diesel VW jetta that has 340,000 miles on it. It has officially died several times. It is currently suffering from a wee bit of dementia, displaying warning lights that may or may not have significance, but it is way beyond retirement in car years, so who is surprised? Why do I love it so? Let me count the ways:

It ran over 100,000 miles on vegetable oil. I still remember the first time I drove it and switched it over to veggie oil…I remember approaching the toll booth for the local Rip Van Winkle bridge and being both euphoric about driving on free fuel but also nervous that something that felt that good must not be legal. Would the toll booth attendant notice? Would the local sheriff start tailing the aroma of french fries?

It is the car that we drove my two oldest sons thousands of miles back and forth to faraway “premier level” soccer practices and games. I watched games in the freezing cold sleet from inside the car and then afterwards turned on the “butt warmers” as we called the seat warmers for the shivering boys….soaked to their skins in the skinny nylon soccer jerseys…the memory of the win or loss fresh in their exhausted minds.

It is the car that my husband loved. He researched its conversion to vegetable oil and drove it to Massachusetts to have the veggie tank installed. He painstakingly filtered gallons and gallons and gallons of vegetable oil that we obtained from restaurants upstate and down.

It is the car that I actually drove over and somehow across a huge deer lying dead in the road one cold night lost and coming home from one of those distant soccer games with my oldest son next to me. The car sort of simultaneously hit and rode over the huge carcass before I knew what was happening. That was the beginning of the end for the cover or plate that protects the bottom of the car.

It is the car that both older boys learned to drive in. It is a standard and they are both competent drivers now, if a little subject to the vagaries of late teen years. Our older son slid this jetta off the road in a late march snowstorm. This was the car’s first death. It was hospitalized at our mechanic’s for a long period and repaired as much as possible. The right front passenger door must be pried open and closed ever since that incident. It also suffered some minor scrapes and bruises. These wounds are not aging well….they grow bigger now and seem to spill a sort of yellow spongelike puss from the abrasions.

Then, last fall, our second oldest son was driving and the engine actually fell out of the car. Following what I would imagine to be the rather insistent direction of my sister’s boyfriend who was in the car and has many years of driving experience in his voice, my son nursed the car home about a mile further leaving a trail of oil that can still be detected. Due to finances, the car then spent close to 6 months sitting in a coma in our driveway. This was a sad time for me. Every day, I thought about it and wondered if it would ever run again. I did not give up hope. My husband kept the tires pumped during this time.

One day, when we felt falsely optimistic about our finances, we had the AAA come to tow the car out of the driveway and off to the mechanic. I waited with baited breath for the call from the mechanic. He is a really nice guy, but not a fool, and not one to nourish false hopes. He eventually got a chance to look at it. He felt that it was repairable. It needed over a thousand dollars of work…had to have the engine reattached and a new oil pan.

When we got it back that time, I got to revisit that euphoric feeling that I had first driving it on vegetable oil. It ran again! I could get in it and it would take me to the grocery store. I trusted it again immediately. My second son drives it to far away soccer practices. We have all learned how to start it in the freezing cold. it is very hesitant to start, but my husband figured out that it must be left parked in a certain sunny part of our driveway where it is also facing slightly downhill. That way, the fuel is already pooling down near the starting apparatus. So we turn the key in the ignition six times watching the coil light carefully. Then one must push the gas pedal to the floor while holding the key turned in the ignition for what seems like an inordinate amount of time. The car sputters weakly and if you continue to hold that key twisted in the ignition, the sputtering takes hold and the engine turns over and if you keep that gas pedal pressed to the floor for a good 30 seconds, you have a started car. Then you can walk back into the house and get anything that you forgot as it needs to warm up.

The car climbs up out onto the road, easily gripping slippery icy terrain. It starts off slow, it is old now. About 30 seconds into actually moving, the “check engine light” pops cheerily on. This is a familiar sight. It became routine back when we were still driving on vegetable oil. Next, the red thermometer light pops on. This is more alarming to me, but my husband assures me that it just means that a fuel injector needs to be replaced. So that is where the dementia comes in. Why is the car talking about temperature if it is an injector issue? I do however remember conversations with my 100 year old grandmother. I am not so self assured as to think that I knew what we were talking about and she didn’t. Like my grandmother, the car just keeps carrying on…. warning us gently that it cannot live forever.