The Mom Stop: Family’s old car finds new home
It was after dark sometime in the spring of 2002, driving north on California’s I-5, when I thought I might die.
Stuck in a tiny, box-like blue 1987 Honda Civic, my 80-year-old grandmother proceeded to drive in the fast lane at snail’s pace of 30 miles per hour on the interstate. Cars swerved around us. Horns honked.
My grandmother hadn’t driven a car in at least a few years because she had been living in an assisted living facility. She switched lanes without using a blinker or looking behind her.
I grabbed onto the handle anchored above the passenger window. My sister, in the backseat, had her eyes closed tightly. The Honda, which needed new struts, rocked with a rhythmic pace between sections of interstate pavement.
“Bubby, you have to pull over,” I told my grandmother.
I was a college student from Alabama. I had never driven in California before, let alone on the I-5.
My grandmother was trying to take me and my sister to In-N-Out Burger to eat because our dad had fallen asleep back at the house and he was too tired to drive. I quickly realized what a mistake that was. Eventually, she turned on to the 405 Interstate.
“You need to let me drive,” I told my grandmother.
Finally, she swerved across the three right lanes of traffic, off the exit ramp and blew through a toll without stopping - which my dad later got a ticket for.
Finally, Bubby stopped the car. We swapped places and somehow, amazingly, I was able to find my way back onto the interstate and back to San Clemente.
As we parked that little blue Honda in the garage of her home, my grandmother gave me a smirk. “How old are you again?” she asked. I replied I was 21. “Well you aren’t too bad of a driver, I guess.”
Last month, I found myself driving that little blue Honda once more on I-5, praying I would get back to the house safely. While the car drove fine on the interstate, when it slowed to a purr at a stop sign or roundabout, it threatened to stall. Then I’d restart it, have to slam my foot on the pedal to make sure it didn’t stall again.
“We are never going to sell this,” I told my sister on the phone, who was adamant that we get as much money as we could.
The car, which amazingly still only had 157,000 miles on it, has sat in my grandmother’s garage for most of its life as she spent much of the last 20 years in assisted living facilities and nursing homes. Over the last couple of years, my dad ended up driving Bubby’s car as his “around town car” until they both died last year.
“Hondas really do last forever,” he always said. I agreed with him, as I’ve always had Hondas myself.
Now with both our dad and grandmother gone, my sister and I were tasked with selling the Honda, which, save for some carburetor issues, was still a pretty good car. We paid for a new fuel pump to be installed, had a smog test done so that we could sell the car and advertised the vehicle online.
However, selling a car when you live across the country isn’t easy. I didn’t feel comfortable selling the car to a teenager who would wreck it, or to a mom with kids who might need something more dependable.
But two months after listing it online, I got a message from a buyer. A young Marine from Camp Pendleton was interested - and he knew cars. He was a mechanic. After test driving, he was excited to buy it as a project piece. And we were excited to sell it.
Signing away the title last week was a little bittersweet. It’s letting go of one more piece of my childhood, one more piece of my grandmother and dad. But at the same time, it was a relief. I was glad to let it go to someone else, and know my dad would approve of the young mechanic. And I could just imagine my grandmother standing there, in the garage, giving me her smirk.
“Not too bad,” I can imagine her saying. “Not too bad.”
Lydia Seabol Avant writes The Mom Stop for The Tuscaloosa News in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.