Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Turtle

Years ago, my mother decided that she wanted a minivan. And in her typical fashion, she and my father went down to the local car lot and got a very non-descript white Dodge minivan. We dubbed it The Turtle - it puttered along, wasn't going to break any speed records, but was definitely going to get you there.

Two years later, my father decided that my mother needed another new car, so he went to the Chrysler dealership and bought her something. Another white minivan. It was almost identical to The Turtle.

So Dad took over primary custody of The Turtle. He plastered the back with Army stickers and World War II veteran decals. He eventually put a hand brake in it when his leg went numb and he almost hit the gas pump at Sheetz. His service in World War II, and his frozen feet, were repaid by peripheral neuropathy that danced around like the Devil for years, coming and going.

When Dad eventually lost the ability to drive, The Turtle stayed parked in the garage mostly undriven because you could only stand wrestling yourself into the van with the hand brake in the way every so often - it would scrape your kneecaps if you weren't careful. As I discovered later on, my father would sneak out for a drive every now and then when my mother wasn't home. One weekend, my mother went up to the church to water the flower beds and my sister and I were lounging around the breakfast table soaking up some caffeine and generally having a lazy Saturday. My father was gamely loping around the house doing one of the few chores he was still able to do - gathering up the household trash.

"Dad, let me go with you up to the dump, okay?" said my sister. He disappeared out the door with the trash, and she continued sipping her coffee and reading the newspaper.

The next thing I knew, I saw The Turtle go flying down the driveway and veer left out of the driveway, headed to the dump. "Well, I think you probably should've gotten dressed a little faster, Kath. Dad just took off in The Turtle for the dump." She spewed coffee all over the table and ran out into the driveway...but The Turtle was long gone.

"Oh Jesus...Mom is gonna KILL YOU!" I moaned. And we both waited at the window for him to come back. We flipped a coin and decided if he wasn't back in ten minutes, I was going to go after him.

He came back. And the smile on his face was a mile wide. Mom never found out. We were saved from her wrath.

The Turtle was more than just a minivan. It was my Dad's last bit of freedom. A man who had traveled the world, his body now torn apart by cancer, clung to a little white minivan that could still take him places.

My mother sold The Turtle today. A local man with four kids bought it and was tickled to death to get a 15-year old van with only 70,000 miles on it. While he was at the DMV getting new tags, Joey and I scraped off my father's stickers and used GooGone to make sure all the adhesive was gone. My uncle had already taken off the hand brake, my mother had cleaned out the inside, and all that was left was an anonymous white minivan.

Thank you, Turtle. I hope you have a wonderful new home. And I hope you take them on wonderful new adventures. Little did they know what a gem they were getting.


itsmebuddy said...

Great story! We need these kinds of stories told to remind us of our own family stories and how important love and family is. Thank you!


Builder Mama said...

No, thank you! I cried a lot writing this, I miss my dad so much. But even he would laugh at his own expense about his escape in The Turtle!

Laura said...

That is absolutely true! I remember seeing him going down the road, s l o w l y, and thinking, "There goes Julian, he's escaped!"

This made me tear up too. It's little things like this that reminds us of our loss, and those memories that we have to hold onto!