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My wife’s face was pained as we talked about it.
I said: “Do you want to go see, one last time, before ...”
“Before?” she said.
“Before they take her away.”
We rode in silence to the auto body joint. We stepped through a break in a weathered stockade fence. It was a Sunday afternoon. The place was as quiet as a country cemetery. Ahead, resting on gravel, forlorn and listing slightly starboard, was our wrecked 2007 Chrysler Town & Country minivan.
She led as we walked toward it.
“Damage is on this side,” I told her. “Brace yourself.”
She came around the passenger side. The fender and door were crunched in, and the front tire rested at a crazy angle, busted off its axle. The week before, it had been t-boned at an intersection as my son was on his way to a doc’s appointment.
“Aye dios mio,” she said, placing her hand flat on the window, as if giving comfort to the afflicted. She said, “Poor thing.”
Poor thing? It’s a minivan, the dowdy old aunt of American auto styling, a road nerd and, if you have little kids, probably a rolling hazmat site.
But I clammed up about all that. Mrs. Mullane has genuine affection for the Chrysler, which we called “old girl.” Right. With its sluggish handling and inability to swiftly merge into traffic, I called it “lard tail” though I used another word for “tail.”
Admittedly, I have a grudge against minivans. Since I was 18, I’ve driven cars that were cool, or at least had personality and were fun to drive. I had a VW bus, a Hurst Olds Cutlass with T-tops (midnight blue with black leather interior), a growling five-speed Chevy Beretta, and others. But in the early 2000s, when we had two kids and one on the way, I traded in my Jeep Wrangler for our first minivan, a bulbous green thing that was homely but quite practical.
When the green minivan croaked, my wife insisted we replace it with another one. It made sense. The kids were little and were in baseball and Scouts and other activities. Minivans carry a lot of stuff, and the stow-and-go seats that folded into the floor were handy, especially when we headed to Wildwood each summer loaded with bags and boogie boards.
But as a boomer who grew up in the muscle car era of Mustangs and Challengers and Cudas, minivans were the Vista Cruiser station wagon of our time. Or maybe the Country Squire with fake wood on its sides. Ugh. Even today, no one looks back and says, “Man, I should have held on to that Country Squire station wagon.”
When minivans were introduced by Chrysler in the 1980s, they were innovative and interesting for about 15 minutes. Soon they became the wheels of choice for the soccer mom crowd, and ubiquitous on American highways. Then SUVs became the rage, and The Wall Street Journal declared minivans “Out of Style.” Sales slumped. Chrysler discontinued the Town & Country after 2016. Probably, it’s not going to make a comeback.
Before our visit ended, I cleaned out the interior. There was the usual stuff – snow scrapers, candy wrappers, faded grocery store receipts, and unidentified small plastic parts from toys or games long forgotten.
Beneath one of the front seats I found a crumpled drawing that my daughter, now 19, had made depicting her and me a rabbits. My wife cooed over it. Also, I found a long-lost beanie baby, a moose.
“Hey, these things are worth money. We can put that on eBay and get some dough for a new car,” I said.
“No way,” my wife said, swiping it away from me.
I sat in the driver's seat a last time. I turned the ignition. It fired right up, as usual. I listened for a minute, revved it, then shut it down.
Finished, we walked back to our car, and my wife turned and said, “Goodbye, old girl.”
I get it now. She was behind the wheel for most of its 200,000 miles. Dowdy? Unfashionable? It sure is. But as reliable as an old friend. It always started, it always made it through the worst storms. It was comfortable and quiet and a family workhorse that was inexpensive to operate.
There were plenty of open roads beneath sunny skies for that old crate, and it never let us down. You can’t ask much more from a car than that. So, respect.
Columnist JD Mullane can be reached at 215-949-5745 or at [email protected]
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