We had planned to keep our beloved 1997 station wagon.
Then something happened. On the way home from picking up a small, new SUV, its air conditioning stopped. Its temperature soared and the needle on its temperature gauge flew past "H."
The towing company took it to our trusted, longtime mechanics, Tony and Steve, who said repairs would cost about $3,000. As much as we loved that little white wagon, we could not indulge in that repair after we had just bought a new car.
On April 23, we bid the wagon adieu. We took final photos and signed it over to the mechanics, almost 16 years to the day after we bought it. The odometer read 94,104 miles, not much for a car its age.
Although we take few trips, that wagon had seen a lot of family and work mileage in 16 years.
The day I bought it, my young niece and nephew, then ages 7 and 11, crawled under the luggage cover in back and posed for a photo. Now they are 23 and 27, good drivers themselves.
The wagon saw them often during their childhoods. It carried me to their house and them to baseball and soccer practices, playground expeditions, violin and swim lessons, mixers, school interviews, sleepovers, and cultural outings. It took me to watch them in football, squash, soccer, hockey, lacrosse and ice hockey competitions, recitals and school performances, and graduations from lower, middle and upper school.
On the mechanics' lot, a small dent from an early lacrosse ball was still visible last week. The rest of the wagon's smooth whiteness glistened, having been repainted after an encounter with a hit-and-run driver.
That wagon knew lots of people: our parents and their aides, friends on dinner outings and garden tours, neighbors and their children, godchildren, but never our great niece or nephew. Their car seats are so complicated, almost permanent installation is required.
Like my husband, the wagon did look its age. It had had plenty of exercise hauling dozens of his paintings.
That was why we had planned to keep it. Its successor, and most wagons, cannot accommodate a 48-inch canvas lying flat.
It had seen a lot of gardens, too, from Annapolis to Pennsylvania, as I toured them before writing articles.
It was no stranger to equipment, particularly wheelchairs and walkers in the last decade of our parents' lives. It was a transport vehicle to doctors' offices, retirement and nursing homes, hospital and hospice parking lots.
It carried other gear too: plants, mulch and topsoil, boxes, bags and furniture during family moves and clothing from biannual visits to the Rehoboth outlets.
When cleaning it out, I found handwritten directions to the beach condo it ferried us to twice a year for 14 years. A shell from our first beach trip rode beneath the radio until we transferred it to our new car.
Although we tried, that wagon was impossible to replace. When we car-shopped, the current model seemed too long. It felt like driving a torpedo.
We settled on a new, white, little SUV.
It too feels bigger than the wagon. It is about the same length, but more spacious inside.
It is bouncier on the road, because it is higher off the ground. Visibility is excellent. Maybe we will come to enjoy the feeling of rumbling down the road in a glass bubble.
I doubt we will ever be as attached to this new, white SUV as we were to its predecessor. We have reached a time of life where letting go is something we are learning to do. Tony and Steve promised to find it a good home; yet now, my husband is threatening to buy it back.