My father would think it unthinkable. He was, with his cars, as much a man of fixed ritual as he was with his faith. Whenever he and my mother would travel anywhere, he'd have a stash of honey-roasted peanuts somewhere on the floor beside him, munchies to keep him awake.
We could have, if we'd wanted to, just about predict, to the month, when he'd start to shop for a new one. The ritual worked like this: always buy a used car a year or two old, and buy it from the same dealer or dealers, men who will look after you and your tastes, who will let you know when they've got a low-mileage beauty on the lot, a car they think you'll like.
Pick a new used one up every three years or so; drive those cars--good-sized ones, too, with air and power windows--until they have, say, 50,000 miles on 'em, then trade 'em in because you really can't trust a car once it has, say, 60,000 on 'em. My father wasn't a mechanic; he wanted to be able to trust the vehicle he was driving. He didn't want to mess around sinking half his investment portfolio into repair work. Worse, he didn't want to be the dolt who was stuck along some freeway with the hood up.
He didn't want to be troubled unnecessarily. He wanted to trust his cars.
Once--in 1963--a Chevy dealer in Gibbsville, a man named Wilterdink, sold him a new one, a silver Impala, the car we owned when I turned 16. It was nice--that I remember--but I can't help wonder why he bought a new one--ordered it, in fact, color, interior, amenities--and then never again. Maybe he and Mom were bickering that year. Maybe it was just a touch of Calvinist mid-life crisis. That Chev treated us very well as I remember, but when he traded it in, he went right back to the ritual. 1963 was a hiccup. He probably felt guilty.
"Give me a child for the first seven years, and he'll be mine for life" is a line that can be attributed to almost anyone and quite regularly is, depending on how you'd like to spin it. Some say it belongs to Hitler, some say the Jesuits. People in my corner of the universe think of it as a convenient way of talking about covenant theology. No matter. For my first 35 years, I was my father's child.
And then I moved to Iowa, where every last one of my colleagues had a vastly different approaches to cars: drive 'em until they die, plain and simple.
I'm no grease monkey. I can't just roll up my sleeves and get under the hood. I don't understand how engines run. I don't know a shock from a strut. But all around me, people swore that the only way to beat Detroit was by treating old beaters with gobs of TLC but then driving them into the ground. I became, right here in the middle of all these hogs, another prodigal son.
Tomorrow morning my wife and I will leave the garage with the last car my father ever bought, a dark green Buick as big as a mattress. It's now 14 years old, has 165 thousand miles on it, and just had a grand invested into it for shocks and problems whose definitions I don't even remember. But I trust the mechanic, mostly. Besides, he repeated exactly what another told me a year ago--that old Buick has a 200 thousand-mile-engine.
Hitler was wrong about a lot of things. I won't besmirch the Jesuits. Tomorrow we're leaving for Texas in an old Buick my friends, just last week, giggled at. I should be scared to death it's going to shipwreck somewhere in Nebraska. But I'm not. So there, Dad.
Wish me Goodspeed. I'll be okay. Besides, at 66 I'm still a covenant child--I'll have plenty of peanuts.