My Iconic Car

SI am not at all sentimental — I am too practical for that, though sometimes the things I do seem sentimental to others. For example, I keep scrapbooks, not out of sentimentality but for a very strange and practical reason. After Jeff died, I started the books for the old woman I will become. I wanted her to be able to see where her life went. I wanted her to know that even though she lost her soul mate, she didn’t waste the years she lived alone, that she experienced a full life after his death. Other people don’t have to think of such things. My parents, for example, celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary a few months before my mother died. She never had to worry about perhaps living decades with no one to share her memories. The old woman I become may not care, but I want to make sure she knows someone was thinking of her and sharing her memories, if only her younger self.

And then there is my Beetle. I have had the thing for 43 years. It’s the only car I have ever owned, and I am the only owner it ever had, which is something very few people can say. I am hesitant about giving it up, though not for sentimental reasons. (Well, except for my not wanting anyone else to have the car. Some people believe our things become steeped with our spirits, and after so many years, there is a lot of my spirit in the bug. But that’s not strictly sentimentality. It’s more mysticism. I wish I could bury this particular thing when I sign its do-not-resuscitate order.)

On the practical side, the yearly upkeep including repairs, is a lot cheaper than the increase in insurance rates and tags would be if I got a more modern car. Not that I’m against a new vehicle — I will happily get one when/if I decide what sort of life the vehicle will need to support. If I decide to live on the road, maybe a nicely outfitted camper would be more apropos than a city car. Or maybe some sort of small commercial van would be more practical than either. A new car would be nice, but if I wanted any other sort of vehicle, I’d have to buy a used one. (New van conversion campers are as expensive as some houses.) Lots of things to think about. Luckily, I don’t have to act on any of them now, because I do have a car that works (most of the time, anyway).

Then there is another practicality — if I got a new vehicle today, while my old car is still running, then five years from now, I will be driving a used vehicle. On the other hand, if I waited to buy until five years from now and continued to use my old bug in the meantime, then five years from now I’d be driving a new vehicle. (Go ahead, laugh. I don’t mind. Everyone else finds my reasoning risible.)

Although I don’t particularly like the car (I truly am surprised it lasted this long — when I first got it, I thought it was a lemon because too many things were wrong with it), I do like that other people like the car. Such an iconic car is a conversation starter. I don’t know how to strike up conversations with strangers, but I don’t have to know — the car does it for me since everyone has a nostalgic VW story they are eager to share. (Oddly, as little as my father understood me, he did understand this. “It’s like your hats,” he told me shortly before he died. “It’s part of your persona.”)

Everyone has an opinion about my bug. Some people worry for my safety and think I should get rid of it. Some people think I’m wasting my money on such an old vehicle. Some people think I should keep it, especially those who once owned a Beetle themselves. A few people have suggested that I keep it but buy a new car, but what’s the point of that? I can only drive one car at a time, and the truth is, I don’t particularly like driving any sort of vehicle. Some car guys think I should donate it to them so they can restore it — for themselves of course.

A friend told me the other day that I will cry when I finally replace this thing that has been with me almost 2/3 of my life. I have cried for many reasons the past five years, but I doubt I will cry when it’s gone. I am not very sentimental, and after all, it is just a beat-up old car.


Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

2 Responses to “My Iconic Car”

  1. Carol Says:

    We seem to have had a lot of cars, used and very old ones in the early years, and then a series of new ones, traded in every 3-5 years to minimize depreciation and repairs. Since retirement, however, we’ve stuck with the same vehicles, and are hoping they’ll last at least as long as we do (which better be a good many years yet). Even then, I don’t think we’ll make your 43 years!

    I imagine you’ll drive your Beetle until it either quits for good, or it no longer meets your needs. Either way, you’ll make the decision when you have to, right?

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Yes, right! I figure the reason I can’t make a decision about whether to keep the VW or get a new car is there is no reason to make a decision. So far they keep fixing it, and since I have no idea what I am going to do, I don’t know what sort of vehicle will fit that unknown lifestyle.

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