I run into a dented old friend

It is always a little sad to say goodbye to a loyal friend you are leaving forever, a companion you have spent many hours with, in all sorts of circumstances. David didn't think I should be so unhappy about the separation. "It's just a car," he said. "And we need a smaller one."

We were standing in the hot parking lot of a car dealership, keys to the new car in David's hand, keys to the old one in mine. I patted the fender of my blue minivan and sighed.

David took the keys and handed them to the salesman, who shrugged helplessly.

As we drove away, I turned back to look at my trusty comrade, standing silent and alone.

As it turned out, I liked the new car. It ran beautifully, all the tires were good, and I happily quit buying oil by the case. Our teenage children were delighted to ride around in a small green sedan instead of a smoky van with a missing hood ornament and a scrape on the back of one of the seats. We got the radio stations lined up right, and before long someone spilled a soft drink down the back seat, which took a lot of scrubbing.

It began to feel like our family's car.

Still, I missed looking in the rear-view mirror and seeing the seats where I used to buckle in my little children. I missed the dent in the side where one of the kids had hit it with a baseball, even though I'd scolded him at the time.

I thought about the family trips in that car and the laughs and fun we'd had together.

Then one day I happened to go to a large shopping center in a nearby town. I parked in a sea of vehicles, hoping I could find my car again when it was time to go home.

As I walked through the parking lot on my way into the store, I saw a familiar blue minivan coming slowly toward me, creeping down the rows of cars. The young woman driving it looked from side to side, searching for an empty parking spot. I stood stock still and stared. Could it be?

It seemed impossible.

As I stood rooted to the spot, the minivan slowly wheeled into a parking stall right in front of me. From their car seats in the back, a little blond-haired boy and girl looked out the window at me as I stared at them in astonishment. The boy smiled at me cheerfully and waved.

I waved back hesitantly, suddenly self-conscious, then walked quickly away toward the store's entrance. I went inside and stood for a moment, then turned and ran back out into the parking lot.

The minivan was still there, but the young family was gone. I walked up to the car, trying not to look suspicious, wondering how I could explain myself if someone asked me what I was doing. The license plate was different, but as I walked around the car, I saw that the hood ornament was missing and there was a small, baseball-sized dent on one side.

I peeked inside and saw a familiar scrape on the back of one of the seats. There was a copy of "The Poky Little Puppy" on the floor, a box of animal crackers on the back seat, and a well-worn little flannel blanket tossed into the front seat. It was my car.

But it wasn't my car. I had left it behind at a dealership, where it got a rebuilt engine and a new, young family. I stood and looked at my old friend for another minute, wavering between the past and the present. Then I walked away.

There was a familiar green sedan parked nearby, with a baseball glove and a high school math book thrown onto the back seat. It looked like the kind of car a smaller, older family could ride around in together, taking turns driving and having a lot of fun.

I got into it with a light heart and drove for home, and this time I didn't look back.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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