My Dad's Car

My dad’s car is sitting in front of my house.

He’s 84 and he’s sick, and he’s decided not to drive anymore. And to sell his car.

I think of it as my dad’s car even though it belongs to both my parents. My mom drove it only once, the day they bought it. Her test drive. After that she ceded driving to him. Given their ages, retired and all, they were always together anyway. She stopped driving anywhere alone and then she stopped driving at all.

So it’s my dad’s car. Really.

He shouldn’t have been driving the last three years and it was a bit dicey before that but we didn’t know. That he had a growing brain tumor.

The last while he kept driving to a minimum. I think. He was sneaky.

I nagged often as did my brother. We tried to be firm, caring, and logical. To a firm, caring and previously logical engineer.

But there was nothing about this that was regular logical. This was emotional logical. We knew it was one of the few pleasures left for Dad and that it's close to the hardest transition he will make. To set his car keys down and say enough. We know him well enough to know this is a broader statement to him, about him, and the state of his life. 

The car had been parked in a spot he and Mom could see from the window of their suite at the assisted living place. Because they've had it there it made living in a facility more like a choice as though they could drive away if they wanted.  

There’s a reserved sign at his spot with their name on it. Only about 5 residents have a reserved parking space and can still drive (or pretend to) and I think he was kinda proud of that.

But the car’s not been moved for months and over the spring and summer has collected a dusty coat of tree pollen made solid by evening dew and sunny days, each day over again right into August. And I noticed he seemed to lack the will to make his furtive trips to the drug store to get her hard candy.

I figured this time was coming.

When last my brother visited from Arizona he told me Dad asked him to pass the message to me that he would need my husband's and my help to sell his car. Which was funny because I live a mile from my parents and they see me several days a week.

Maybe Dad knew in my own way I would take it hard, too. So he had my brother tell me.

I waited a couple of weeks till Dad asked me about a plan and then I said we’d research the value and clean it up for him. He tried to give me his key which he’d taken off the only key ring I remember my whole life. That has his dad’s St. Christopher medal on it.

I nodded. Said I’d get it later. When I have the car ready.

I finally have what I wanted. I now know we are all safe from his driving. Every school child walking and mom driving to the grocery, and other seniors lacking the ability to turn heads fully or act quickly. Most of all, he’s safe from him.

My mom hasn't wanted him to drive either but then she finds the need to go somewhere, just them, two, as they have been since age 12, to grab a bite or visit the store, and she would ask him to take her. Inside there's a push and pull for her. The yearning for independence, the wanting of something of their old, younger lives.

Now the car sits in front of my house. In the driveway. Yesterday I emptied it. It took me nearly a month to open the door and breathe in the smell of them. Two people married 63 years since age 21, together since grammar school.

I removed their bits. His Tums. Her lipstick. Their Kleenex. And more Kleenex. And three different car accessories for either the dispensing or collecting of Kleenex in its various states. 

His WWII U.S. Navy blanket, in case of emergency. Quarters for the bridge because my dad probably thinks that’s all it would be were he to cross one. Instead of the $6 it is. And an umbrella should it rain so that her little hair-sprayed helmet of hair will not be disturbed by a drizzle.

I put it all in a dishpan and set it on the floor of my garage.

Soon I’ll have it cleaned inside, and washed. The way my dad always liked it when he parked it in his garage with the automatic garage door opener. But I don’t know when I’ll have the courage to set a "For Sale" sign on the window, or list it in a want ad, or put it on Craigs list.

Because along with the car I watch my dad say good-bye to his capacity, and pride, and freedom. And life. All while I say good-bye to him. And to my mom. And the way they used to drive around together visiting their friends and favorite food places including the Italian deli for hand made grissini, and the market where she couldn’t pass up a sale especially if it included a little lemon cake with buttercream frosting. Even though she had four others in the freezer. He never could say no to her.

And now there are so many Nos.

Until they are no more. 


  1. I needed all those tissue from your dad's car to be able to finish reading this. I felt the same way when my mother finally decided she needed to give up Dad's truck even though I know how much she enjoyed tooling around in it for errands around town like he so often did. The next door neighbor kept asking her about it even before she decided to sell it. I kept telling her, no. (Primarily for selfish reasons, but also because it was old and you don't sell to people you know and have to see all the time should something bad happen.) In the end, that's who we sold it to, but only after they had moved 4 hours away so we wouldn't have the constant reminder in the driveway next door.

    You will find the moment when you can clean out the car and then the time will come around when you can finally post that ad. will be thinking of you all the while.

  2. hi ms pam. thanks for stopping by catnip. i just needed to take a break and do some rearranging. i'll be back soon. catnip is on twitter if you want to stay in touch :)

  3. I’m sorry to hear about your dad’s condition. You have so much memory with your parents in that car. I understand how hard it is for you to let go of it and sell it yourself. Just think of it this way: his car served him and served him well. I’m certain your dad could not be any more proud to have such a great car.

    Stelle Courney

  4. I guess we all have ‘that car.’ I remember the car our family owned for 12 years. Of all the cars we’ve owned, I would say that it is the most beloved car. Not because it was expensive or flashy or fast; as a matter of fact, it was a simple station wagon where everyone in the family could squeeze in. We had such fun memories with that old thing. Anyways, I hope your father is feeling better now!

    Carry Demaggio


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