Nobody likes to think about the passing of a parent. When it happens it leaves you with a lot of different feelings, sadness, emptiness, loneliness and even, if your parent has been effected by a long illness or a prolonged decline, an unexpected sense of relief and completion. The grieving process is different for everyone, the legal process isn’t. Within a few days of your parent’s passing, the division of assets, property and cherished mementos begins to grind relentlessly forward. If your family gets along well, who gets what is generally handled gracefully and your relationships are actually strengthened by the process. So it was with my family and, since I was the only “car guy” among my brothers and sisters, it was a foregone conclusion that I would get my father’s Oldsmobile.
Despite George Orwell’s dire prediction, 1984 was a pretty good year. Sure the economy was tough, but America felt like it was on the rebound and the music was generally good. It was the year I graduated from high school and it was also the year my father purchased a brand new Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme. It was a lovely little car in a stately gray color with good-looking Oldsmobile Rallye wheels shod with white wall tires. My father was a working class guy, a telephone man, and he understood what made a car reliable over the long haul. More stuff meant more opportunities for a car to break, so he passed over the optional V8 and chose a car with the Buick V6. He also skipped the landau top, leather seats, power windows and all the other upscale options. Still, the car never felt like it was missing anything, it was simply beautiful.
Over the next decade the Oldsmobile saw a lot of light duty. It made a few cross-country trips but spent most of its time under a cover in the garage waiting for Sunday morning trips to church. By the time cancer finally overtook my father in the early 90s, the little Olds had just 60K miles. My mom, who had never been a driver, let the car sit for months until she finally worked up the courage to take a driving course. Once she got her license, the Olds went back on the road, but even so my mom stayed close to home and over the next few years the car continued to see limited use.
Upon my return from Japan in 2001, I purchased a well-worn 200SX Turbo. Later, when I got a job on the other side of the country, my mother stepped up and offered me the Oldsmobile. I was thrilled to get it. The car still turned a lot of heads and it drove out well too. It was the perfect car to take across country and in March of 2002 I took it to Washington DC, but when I was sent overseas in July of that year I faced a hard choice. I really didn’t make sense to hang on to the car, but at the same time it was a tangible link to my father. It just seemed wrong to sell, so I stored it instead.
In July of 2004, I returned to the United States and my wife and I took the car back across the country. It was a great trip. We came up to Niagara Falls then drove across to Michigan where we boarded the SS Badger for a trip across the lake. A couple of days later we spent the night in Wall South Dakota, a place I always stop at on my cross-country journeys, and then headed to see Mt. Rushmore. Then it was on to Yellowstone where we had reservations at the Old Faithful Inn and finally, after a couple of days in the park, we headed home to Seattle. Three weeks after that, the car was back in storage and I was on my way to Japan.
After two years in Japan I made another lengthy trip home and I decided that I should finally go ahead and get rid of the Olds. It was a hard decision but the long periods of storage were not good for the old car, I knew. When my two years old son in tow, we went up to the storage unit, prepped the car and brought it home. We had a nice month with the old car and took a lot of pictures. It was important to get a lot of photos with the car and my son Harley, who is named after my father. At the end of the trip, rather than return it to storage, I passed the car on to my twenty-something nephew who was just starting a family of his own.
I suppose I should have known that the car would be more of a burden to him than it was an asset. He did use it to carry around his wife and baby for a while, but when he hit a period of extended unemployment, he decided to sell it. I was, and still am disappointed. Over the years I had spent thousands of dollars in storage and maintenance fees on the old car and all that was gone in an instant. My father, however, would have approved. He was, after all, a pragmatist and no piece of property, no matter how many good memories were associated with it, would have stood between him and supporting his family.
Owing the car for as long as I did was like a final gift from my father. Letting it go was hard, but with it also came a sense of relief and completion. As it turns out, too, the money that my nephew got for it went to purchase a set of tools required to start a new job – as a telephone man just like his grandpa. Maybe that’s the happy ending I needed.
Thomas M Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.