In life is good

the car rattle (start anywhere)

On a clear November morning, I woke to the sounds of the waves, walked out onto a hotel balcony, and caught the sun coming up.

This was the first road trip I’d taken with my new wheels. I bought the new (to me) used car (a 2009 honda civic) just a month before, and I’d had my other car since the end of 2003.

A gold 1997 Camry, that car had been my mom’s before it was mine. When she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in mid-2003, my dad decided to buy her something she’d always wanted: a convertible. Instead of trading in the Camry, they swapped with me; I took Mom’s car, and they took my older Accord down to their home in Florida, where they usually didn’t drive more than 1,000 miles during their “snowbird” winters.

So even though the Camry had been mine longer than it had been my mothers – and it was definitely time to retire her – it always felt like it was her car, so it was really hard for me to say goodbye. (yeah, i get attached to inanimate objects ….)

For the entire time I owned it, it was solid and reliable … and yet, every time someone would get into the car with me, they’d hear a rattle and make a comment about it … and it would remind me of the time I first heard the rattle.

Mom had been through a few rounds of chemotherapy at this point, and she didn’t have a lot of energy. But a friend’s daughter was getting married, and Mom wanted to pick out a gift for the girl herself. So we went out for a shopping excursion. I drove. (not sure why i drove her car and not mine, but …) As we rolled out their driveway, and down the big hill of their street, I commented on a strange rattling sound that seemed to be coming from the front of the car.

I asked her what it was, and she groaned. She told me that she’d taken the car to her mechanic, and he’d checked every essential connection, tested this and that, and he (and one of his colleagues) concluded that there was nothing wrong with the car. It just had a mysterious rattle, and it was nothing to worry about, they said. It didn’t give her any problems, and she trusted her mechanic, so she let it go.

I must’ve made another comment about it, and she said – in the warped/funny/wise-ass way that only she could: Well, when I’m dead and this is your car, you can figure out what the rattle is.

We made the car exchange before she died, but once it was mine, I did take it to my mechanic to see if he could figure out what the rattle was. Turns out, he couldn’t find anything wrong with it either. Sometimes cars rattle, he told me, and assured me that it really was nothing to worry about.

After that, any time someone would get in the car and ask about the rattle, I’d tell them Mom’s story. Sometimes people would hear the “When I’m dead and this is your car” bit, they’d say that it was sad, and I’d realize those people didn’t really know my mom – or maybe I didn’t tell the story well – cause it wasn’t sad to me. It showed my mom’s warped sense of humor, showed how she accepted annoying little things that couldn’t be changed, and moved on. And every time I’d tell it, I knew she’d get a kick out of it; she always liked a good story.

When I decided it was time to retire the Camry/bought the new car, I traded in my car. The sales person wound up driving it to the back of the lot so I could transfer things from the old car to the new one. When we met there, he said:“What’s that rattle in the front of the car?” … and I told the story one more time.

The new wheels are beautiful, and my first road-trip was comfy and easy. And there was no rattle.

I kinda miss it.

Try this at home: Write about a car (your first, your favorite … or one with a mysterious rattle). 

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