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The Old Man’s Car

My dad kept his 1985 Chevy Monte Carlo in excellent condition. He bought and sold other cars since getting the Monte Carlo in the mid 80s, but they were just cars. The 85 MC was his special ride. When not using it as his main vehicle, he made sure to drive it at least once a week to keep it tuned up; in the past several years he kept it wrapped in two, (not just one), car covers, in his carport when not driving it. This year, its 25th, it officially became a “classic car.”

My dad kept it not only because he loved it, but he hoped to have something “classic” to pass on to his sons. He even wondered if maybe one of his grandsons would like it as their first car. At first he was disappointed when I explained that the logistics of keeping the car, after his passing, would just be too much for me. It would be at least seven more years before Calfgrit9 would even get his license, (10 more for Calfgrit6), and I had nowhere safe to keep it, and really just not the head for maintaining it, (and no decades-long relationship with a good mechanic, like he had). He eventually came to accept the fact that it just wasn’t a functional vehicle for me, my brother, or my sons. But that didn’t diminish his love of it or his wish to pass on something classic to his boys.

It is a damn nice car. And it has memories. My dad drove it regularly as his main conveyance for several years before deciding to turn it into an heirloom. I even used it a few times for teenage dates, though it was just a modern car then; it wasn’t anything classic at that time.

In recent years, I rarely got to drive it. Almost exactly a year ago, I got to drive it for about 20 minutes from in town to his home in the country. Cruising along, Dad said, “Back off the speed a little, son, we’re in no hurry.”

“Dad,” I said, “I’m doing forty-five.”

“Well, it feels like you’re doing more.”

It was his baby, and he’d put a lot of effort and emotion into maintaining it. Someone else at the wheel and on the gas pedal made him nervous. For the last many months, it had remained wrapped up and undriven while my dad went through his last battle with the cancer.

After his funeral, when family and friends were preparing to leave the grave site and head over to the old farm-country church for dinner, I had the idea that my brother and I arrive at the church in the Monte Carlo. Brogrit agreed that this was a fantastic idea, one that would make Dad smile.

As it turned out, it would have been a fantastic idea had it come to mind 24 hours earlier. When we went by Dad’s old house, (another thing he left for us to inherit), we found the battery dead. (Like I said, it had been sitting for many months by this time.)

We didn’t have a set of jumper cables with us. Brogrit even went to a neighbor’s house and rang the bell in hopes of borrowing some cables, but no one answered the door. All we had was Dad’s plug-in battery charger, and that takes hours to charge a car battery. While we tried to figure out how to bring the old car to life, we talked about also needing a theme song for our arrival at the church.

We pictured the two of us cruising up to the church, with the car windows down, our theme music playing, (maybe some AC/DC in our style, or maybe some Waylon Jennings in Dad’s style). We’d pull into the parking lot, stop, and get out of the car looking all cool in our black suits. . . but it was not to happen that day. It’s the story of my life: I have the coolest ideas a day late.

Well, we left the battery charger plugged in and hooked up, and we went on to the church dinner.

The next day, the car was good to go. We wanted and needed to take the car out to have it inspected and to renew the license tags. Brogrit called dibs on the first drive, and we headed out. I found some old cassette tapes in the glove compartment, and chose the one with our dad’s name on it: a mix tape of country classics.

Among other songs, we listened to George Jones’ He Stopped Loving Her Today

As many times as I’ve heard that song through the decades, it was on this day, cruising in my newly-passed father’s car, that I first learned/realized the actual story in the song. It now puts a little lump in my throat when I hear it.

As we cruised through town on our errands, Brogrit commented that driving the car made him a little nervous. I laughed and said I understood. After a while, he let me drive. As soon as I sat down behind the wheel and cranked up the engine, my nerves twisted in me. This was our dad’s baby, the car he had kept and taken care of for 25 years. As much as I really wanted to take it for a spin around town a few minutes earlier, at that moment, with the my hands on the steering wheel and my foot on the gas pedal, anxiety was creeping up my spine. Even before putting it into gear, I started worrying about screwing up and damaging that car somehow. What if I clip the curb? What if someone hits me?

“I said I understood about being nervous to drive this,” I said. “But I really didn’t until now.” Brogrit laughed.

We left the car with Dad’s long-time mechanic for an inspection, and Brogrit had to start heading back to his home. When I picked the car back up, to take it back to Dad’s house, I decided to stop by the DMV office, (located in the local mall), to renew the tags because it was on the way.

I parked the car way out in the middle of the parking lot, because that was what Dad always did — to protect it from errant shopping carts and careless car doors. After getting the new year sticker for the license plate, I walked back out to the parking lot. Right beside Dad’s car was a well-maintained old Chevy Nova.

Turns out the Nova driver was an old-car aficionado, and wanted to look over Dad’s Monte Carlo. I opened the door for him to look in, and he exclaimed, “Man, it’s like brand new!”

“My dad took good care of it,” I said, beaming with pride.

We talked for a few minutes, and he told me about his Nova and another car that he had just purchased, (he was at the mall for the DMV, too). I know next to nothing about cars, old or new, so I didn’t know whether to be impressed or not. He asked what I was going to do with this Monte Carlo, and then gave me his name and phone number.

He said good bye and went toward the mall, and I got in the Monte Carlo to take it back to its home. When I got back to Dad’s old house, I stayed in the car to finish listening to the end of the mix tape and heard Ronnie Milsap’s Back on My Mind Again

When the tape finished, I pushed the button to pop it out. Then I backed the car into the carport and put the double cover on it. I patted it gently and said, “Thanks, Dad,” before leaving.

I hate that we’re going to sell it, but really, neither of us can keep it and take care of it like it needs. It needs an owner who has the knowledge and wherewithal to keep it up as well as Dad did. It should be honored better than either of us could attentively manage. I’m starting to think of the situation as more putting it up for adoption than putting it up for sale.

Besides, if Heaven is all it’s said to be, Dad has a divine duplicate of this vehicle with him cruising through the clouds. Stay cool, Dad.


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