It was once explained to me that those rusted clunkers you see in farm-yards are the modern day equivalent of the horse put out to pasture.
Supposedly a habit passed down through generations—when a faithful, hardworking nag gets to a certain age and can no longer pull that plough or take you by buggy to the general store, you don’t put it down, you retire it in a field of buttercups and give it all the fresh water it can drink.
Once cars began replacing horses, and it was the old Buick that was packing it in after years of loyal service, the car, so legend has it, was given the same kind of respect: a place in the backyard rather than the scrap yard.
True or not, I love this theory.
I get attached to cars.
From my first—Tommy, a gold Dodge Dart who I bought from an old boyfriend for a dollar and loved despite a broken tortion bar and fallen off exhaust, who my niece still remembers riding in as I drove her to Toronto for a week’s holiday. Good old Tommy had broken windshield wipers and no shocks and every bump made my niece’s head hit the roof but she was too young and too happy to be on this adventure with her eccentric aunt to suggest anything might be weird in a bad way.
Then there was Ernie. A dark green Volvo when I lived in England that drove me through the alps blasting David Bowie through all those claustrophobic tunnels. And the Datsun that played Joan Armatrading and Simply Red and which I drove into the ground. And the Camry, Peter’s car, which became our first ‘family’ car. Compared to what I’d been used to, I felt like a movie star when I drove it.
I should mention it’s not only my own cars that I form relationships with, but rentals. I take pictures of them at the end of holidays. Years later the picture means nothing. Silver Taurus. Blue Honda. Who cares? But at the time, I’m so grateful for the thing not getting a flat or overheating, for getting us around safely, that I find it hard to walk away without at least a silent nod of thanks.
This morning our old Nissan (unnamed, though in a certain light might be taken for an Edwin or Marcella), too old for re-sale, was picked up by the auto wreckers. When Peter saw my face he reminded me that they were going to “recycle” it, which, however sweet of him, sounded like what my parents said about Tipper the lunatic cat who no one but my ten year old self loved, who finally flipped his last lid and became ferocious, attacking indiscriminately, and who was taken away in a cardboard box one day “to go live on a very nice farm”.
The last time a car of mine was picked up by the wreckers, I convinced myself it was not going to be crushed or even recycled, but kept as a service vehicle for the scrap yard. Living out its last years in a dignified and useful way by shuttling workers to and from coffee breaks and shift changes.
And frankly, short of looking out the kitchen window and seeing the Nissan there in the garden amongst the rusting hulks of Tommy and Ernie, the Camry… amongst cedar saplings and blackberry vines and the memory of Bowie’s “Heroes” rattling round my brain… this is the happy, deluded image I choose for my most recent, faithful, and dearly departed friend.