I have this car. At first glance, it’s really nothing much to look at. At all. It’s just a Saturn sedan. It’s this weird gold color – I think it was described as “champagne” by the Saturn dealer. But this car is special to me. And I feel the need to tell its story.
Let’s back track to late spring, 1997. The pomp and circumstance of college graduation was over and I was giddy with that desperate need to get out of college and on with life. And that spring, my parents very generously presented me with a gift that both mortified and elated me. They gave me my first car. Mortified, you ask? Yup, I was mortified that I was allowed a brand new 97 Saturn SL fresh from the car show floor. It was literally given to me at the dealership with an enormous green bow taped to its roof. But the bow isn’t what mortified me (surprisingly). I was getting a brand new car that I had not paid one dime for. I fretted that it could label me as a spoilt privileged child. While my friends were looking forward to decades of student loan payments and possibly many more years until a brand new car of their own, here it was, a brand new gold prize with a big green bow on top just for me. But, let’s not kid ourselves. I was also positively elated. Jubilant, in fact. I finally had a car! I was free! I could drive where ever I wanted to! I could commute to work like real grown ups did! I got over my guilt and worries fairly quickly – and so began my life with my Saturn.
Over the next few significantly life changing years, it kept right up with me. It put up with my political stickers, spilt drinks, stinky dog, drives in deep snow and cheesy taste in music blaring from its very basic speakers. My car showed its true champagne colors when – besotted and irrational – my now husband and I moved to Worcester, MA. Not only does that part of Massachusetts enjoy some of the most terrific snow storms in the state, it happened to be the 57 mile halfway point between my job and my husband’s job. I drove my Saturn 114 miles every day, roundtrip, in whatever weather New England dealt us for almost two years. My poor Saturn. And it stuck right by me. The only hassle it gave me was a starter issue. But can you blame it? I wouldn’t want to start either if I had to wake up and drive 57 miles before the sun was even up in 14 degree freezing temperatures on the Mass Pike. Forget it. Smart car.
In 2000, my husband and I were married. What was our “get away” chariot after our wedding reception? The Saturn, of course. I remember being stuffed into its backseat, giggling in a pile of wedding gown and tulle, looking through wedding cards with my new husband by my side as my brother drove us to our hotel.
In 2003, my first born son arrived into this world. A car seat was gingerly installed into the backseat. Special mirrors, hanging toys and window shades were placed throughout. It was now to care for very precious cargo indeed. One day a couple years later, while my son was, very typically, tossing around crackers and spilling juice on the seats – I remembered a moment when my parents first gave me the car. My mother had insisted that we ask for scotch guard protectant for the seats. I thought that seemed a bit silly and remember remarking “it’s not as if little kids will be in this car!” and then madly thought “what if my kids someday do end up driving in this car!” It was a completely insane concept. And then, clearly resigned to the ground in crackers in my backseat, I knew my mom was right about the scotch guard.
So here we are in 2008. A couple weeks ago, the Saturn’s mileage clocked in at 130,000 miles. The stickers are still there, its sentiments real but a little faded. Both of my boys, strapped in their car seats, are squeezed into its backseat daily. Every inch of space is piled with books, toys, the contents of birthday party goodie bags – and even more crackers. Every other day, I pull into my son’s school and park amongst a parade of minivans. All with tinted windows and fancy car door openers. The moms peer down at me, through my untinted windows – they see me, my kids, my mess and I wave and say hi. The other moms know my car and often remark “oh, hey, I saw you driving past Target the other day!” When the moms and I chat about my Saturn, we have a good laugh. The only thing “power” in it is its steering. Manual gears, manual windows and manual locks. And the one that always stumps them – it has a tape deck, for God’s sakes! That sends them into hysterics – I crack up too. That Saturn is truly unique and obscure in and amongst the endless cue of soccer-mom-mobiles. I drive it shamelessly – it has no car payments, its running just fine, and I am grateful.
Some day soon, my Saturn may stop pumping its AC, its little tires may give out and I may see two “X”s over its headlights, with a little exhausted tongue sticking out from under the hood. Let’s be honest, it’s had its day in the sun, and snow and everything else in between. And I will have to face those inevitable car payments and irksome feelings of car “two-timing”, while I buy a nice used mini-van. I will find my place in line with that endless parade of soccer-mom-mobiles. I’ll be grateful for the space, the manual locks, a CD player or – dare to dream – a connection for my MP3 player!
But I’m not quite there yet. My Saturn is still with me and I am fiercely loyal to it. And after all of these years, it seems I should pay it some sort of tribute. If only I could find a nice little green pasture where Saturn owners turn out their cars to enjoy their remaining days in peace. Or maybe we should build a nice little “in law” garage for it to retire in when the new mini van shows up. I even asked my father when it would enjoy “vintage” status. He said it might need another 10 years. So we’re over halfway there! In the meantime, whichever comes first, it’s inspiring “vintage” status or that nice little green pasture for retired Saturns, I’ll just keep driving and assume that’s the best tribute I can give it for now.
“The car has become a secular sanctuary for the individual, his shrine to the self, his mobile Walden Pond.” ~Edward McDonagh