Listen, we are not going to talk about my six-week blog break. Mmm-kay? I mean, I will eventually, because I talk about pretty much everything except my personal sex life. Exception: I talk quite a bit about my personal sex life in The Place of Peace and Crickets, MY NEW BOOK, which as you know is available for sale in a variety of places.
More accurately, we’re not going to talk right now about the past few weeks. I’ll just say people seem to really love my book, which makes me happy. FYI, no calls from Oprah yet, or Ellen, or even from Sandra Bullock, who also adopted children and will
probably obviously play me in the book’s movie version. Note to self: look into marketing movie rights.
Let’s instead talk about cars, about which I know nothing except that they use gas. Last week, I was listening to a rerun of CarTalk, that NPR call-in show with the two brothers who know all things automotive. A woman called in and said her father had died and was cremated, and she wanted to pour his ashes into the carburetor or the radiator or some part of the engine of his old car, which he adored, and then speed off into the sunset so her father could literally become part of car. That’s not weird at all, I thought. I listened to this exchange while hurtling down the road in my dad’s old 2000 GMC Yukon XL. The radio was turned up loud because noise leaks through the windows like vapor, and the whole gigantic shell of it shakes when approaching the 70 mph range. But at a steady 75 mph, we’re good.
Hot Firefighter Husband had it detailed last week. It shines like a gleaming hunk of beautiful blue in the sun. Booker Blue, my dad called it. And the inside smells like coconut thanks to the little scented Christmas tree thing-y hanging from the steering wheel. It can’t hang from the rearview mirror because the rearview mirror is on the floor of the back seat. It keeps falling off.
Husband wants to sell Old Blue. “We don’t even know if it’s safe!” he said. “Some of the seat belts don’t work!” It’s maybe a little bit true that Old Blue has been rode hard and put up wet, an apt analogy since the driver’s seat has a front-back wobble and sitting in it feels like trotting on a horse. Only one of the back windows goes down. There’s a little mold issue in the back seat where Dad used to keep his ice chest full of Miller Lite. The dents in the giant silver bumper seem more artistic than damning.
I love this car! So much! It’s gorgeous! I love hauling shit! I love the big-ass trunk! But I hate the way it drives, and I really don’t do a lot of hauling. I’ve been nearly concussed several times by the lift gate falling on my head. Honestly, it’s a Titanic on wheels, impressive and huge and destined for spectacular failure. It drinks gas like a mofo and it takes up as much road space as a single-wide. I have to focus to avoid clipping mailboxes.
But it feels like my dad. The storage compartment between the seats contains the remnants of his road trips, the stuff he never liked to be without: BandAids, toothpicks, business cards, maps. Chapstick. A small wrench, a comb, and a Notre Dame commencement booklet. Dental floss and ibuprofen. More BandAids.
I lost all of his old voicemails. I don’t talk about that because it’s still pretty devastating. (Warning: when you switch cell phone services, the voicemails don’t get transferred with the rest of the stuff.) I’ll never again hear the July 4th call when he said he was so proud we had brought three new citizens into this country. Or the birthday message he left telling me what a beautiful baby I was.
I tell myself it’s no big deal that I’ll never hear his voice again. It was a luxury, anyway, right? To be able to keep him alive that way? It’s not like he could listen to his own father’s voice after he died. And at least I have his car. Every day, I sit where he sat and put my hands on the worn leather steering wheel where his hands once rested, and such proximity with the ghost of him has been no small comfort for me.
But last month, as I listened to the woman who pretty much wanted to turn her dad into motor oil, it occurred to me that my father would have thought the woman insane. And if I’m being honest, he would have thought me insane as well. Captain Safety, we often called him, because he was so safety conscious. He would never have condoned me driving three children around in a 17-year-old vehicle with no rearview mirror, malfunctioning seat belts, and suspicious airbags. “Go buy a new car tomorrow!” I can hear him shouting over the phone. “I’ll pay for it! Just promise me you won’t drive that old piece of junk again!”
As more time passes between his death and the present, I more clearly understand the imprint of his life, and of course it doesn’t consist of the toothpicks or the Illinois state map or the Fix-a-Flat Aerosol Tyre Inflator canister which expired in 2003. It’s not even in my memories of him, which aren’t fading so much as solidifying – moments becoming less fluid and three-dimensional, more captured and cemented, like a book I can reread.
No, his imprint is in me, his daughter, who will always remember to get the tires checked before a road trip, to be generous whenever possible, and that you should smush down hamburgers but not pancakes.
And I know I should never be sentimental in lieu of being safe. So we’re getting rid of the car. Thanks, Dad. I needed that.