Here’s to Auter

Each calendar year gives me three months to look forward to the most:  October, November, December.   I call it my “Auter” since it includes parts of autumn and winter.

There are three main reasons I love Auter:  the temperatures get cooler, the holiday season is in full swing, and strangers reveal their humanity.

Out here in too sunny Southern California where I have lived my entire life, sunshine and warm/hot temperatures are monotonous.  I like variety.

I live for the seven-day forecast that shows a daytime temperature in the 60’s and a low reading in the 30’s.  Those days, unfortunately are rare, as are rainy days.

I feel revitalized when the weather is cold during the day, brand new oxygen, clean and fresh.  On those few brisk days, I feel that I can finally write that book.

Have you ever noticed how as you grow older the holidays seem more precious due to how few you have left in front of you?

As a child, there was nothing better than Christmas morning.  Waking up to presents and eating a huge breakfast feast.  That was Christmas. 

However, as I’ve aged, it is the days leading up to any holiday that resonate with me more.  That excitement of what’s to come, the anticipation of putting up certain decorations, shopping at stores that have somehow remained open throughout your lifetime, visiting particular restaurants dressed up for the holidays—those are my favorite days now.

By the time Thanksgiving Day or Christmas Day arrives, it is anti-climatic.  As soon as I wake up on Christmas, I no longer want to hear another carol or eat another cookie.  It’s over.  Gone for another 365 days.

As December melts into January, I hold on to a profound yet naive hope that people are nicer, kinder, more decent. 

Stories abound about the generosity of people who give time or money to those less fortunate.  Secret Santas who hand out $100 bills to strangers.   Removing a paper ornament off a Christmas day with the name of a foster child who asks for a modest toy.  Maybe that driver who never stops at a stop sign will finally do so for the safety of the stray dog or the mother with a stroller.  Finally smiling at the grocery clerk you see all the time and letting her know how much her service means to you not just during the holidays but any old days.

The most confounded thing about Auter is how quickly the days go by.  Why can’t the triple-digit days fly by and the chestnuts-roasting-on-an-open-fire nights go on forever?

That is why I cherish these days and reflect on them when the August heat waves melt my mind.

As much as I can’t wait for the holiday season to return, I don’t really want January through September to go quickly because that would mean losing most of a year from one’s limited bank account of years, an account that no one knows the remaining balance.

“The Best Years of Our Lives”

Some films are so well made that it makes you feel as if you are eavesdropping on people’s real lives.

Such is the case with the 1946 classic “The Best Years of Our Lives” produced by Samuel Goldwyn and directed by William Wyler.  

Released before Thanksgiving a year after the end of World War II, the film focuses on three soldiers—Al Stephenson (Fredric March), Fred Derry (Dana Andrews) and Homer Parrish (Harold Russell)—who return home and struggle re-entering society.

Every time I come across the film airing on TCM, I’m hypnotized and end up watching it again no matter how much I may have missed.

Whenever a film seems as real as this one, credit goes to all the principals in front and in back of the camera:  the writer, the director, the cinematographer, the actors, the music composer, and the art and set decorators.  You need all of these elements to be working on all cylinders to pull off such a feat.

The film ended up winning seven of eight Academy Award nominations:  Best Picture, Best Director (Wyler), Best Actor (March), Best Supporting Actor (Russell), Best Screenplay (Robert E. Sherwood), Best Film Editing (Daniel Mandell), Best Music (Hugo Friedhofer); the only nomination unawarded was Best Sound.

Interestingly, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awarded Russell a special Oscar not expecting him to win the Best Supporting Actor award—which he did.  Years later, he auctioned that Oscar, but kept the special one.

The two most overlooked individuals not even nominated whose contributions must be acknowledged are cinematographer Gregg Toland and Dana Andrews.

Toland, best known for his cutting-edge deep-focus photography which aided to the monumental stature of Orson Welles’ “Citizen Kane,” does a marvelous job of using both focus and framing to deepen the emotional nature of the characters and their situations.

While March was deserving of his second Best Actor Oscar, Andrews had the most challenging role and should have won.  In fact, Andrews never earned a nomination in his entire career.

Andrews captures the complexities of a man who was the highest ranking officer of the three returning soldiers during his time in the army’s air force, but now faces grim prospects in terms of employment and his marriage.

Though they married hurriedly before his deployment, her love gave him faith to endure horrors knowing that at least he had a woman back home waiting for him.  Sad then when he learns she has not been faithful to him.

He accepts a low-paying job at a drugstore where he used to work as a soda jerk, settling for a sales position that requires helping out with the ice cream orders.

Derry finds himself falling in love with Stephenson’s daughter (Teresa Wright) which leads to Stephenson giving him an ultimatum to call the affair off.

All the humiliation boils over in a scene where Russell sits at the counter along with a man who is critical of the war effort.  In defending Russell’s honor by slugging the man, he loses his job; however, he gains self-respect.

What truly elevates the film is first-time actor Russell portraying a soldier with hooks for hands.  In real life, Russell was an army instructor teaching soldiers how to handle explosives when an accident happened leading to the loss of both hands.

Wyler does not shy away from showing Parrish’s hooks.  The most poignant scene is when Parrish asks his girlfriend to see what she will have to deal with if they were to get married.  In real time, we watch the methodical removal of the hooks to reveal his shortened limbs.  She tenderly buttons his pajama top. 

One of the most amazing scenes ever filmed comes near the climax of the movie when Derry visits a boneyard of de-commissioned B-17s like the one he flew during the way.  There he climbs into the cockpit of a plane and relieves nightmares of his days as a bombardier.

Younger audiences viewing this scene may not appreciate the scope and majesty of the shot as the camera’s fluid crane reveals the graveyard of endless planes that were actually there.  No CGI or special effects.  It was shot in Ontario, California where 2,000 airplanes were dismantled after the war.  Sometimes movies have moments like this one which has a dual purpose:  furthering the narrative at the same time documenting the real thing.

“The Best Years of Our Lives” may be the best film about the aftermath of war for soldiers returning home.  For those like me who never experienced that period of history firsthand it is as close as we can get to the feelings of those who actually lived during that tumultuous time.

Wonderful, Wonderful Johnny Mathis

Bing Crosby is one of the few great singers that even young people have heard of due to his recording of “White Christmas” that is heard every holiday season; however, few know of Johnny Mathis, the last of the classic male pop singers of the 20th century, who has recorded six Christmas albums of his own.  And he still performs at age 87.

Born in Gilmer, Texas in 1935, Johnny Mathis grew up in San Francisco where he developed into an impressive athlete and singer.

In 1954, Mathis attended San Francisco State College and set a high jump record that was just two inches short of the Olympic record at the time.

In 1955, Mathis began singing in nightclubs and in the audience for one performance was George Avakian who was a top executive for Columbia Records.  After hearing Mathis sing, he sent the following telegram to his company:  “have found phenomenal 19-year-old boy who could go all the way.”

One year later in 1956, Mathis had to make a major decision.  He was invited to the Olympic trials and, at the same time, Columbia Records invited him to record his first song.  His father helped him make the decision(No, his father did not recommend the Olympics.)

Known for imbuing lush romantic ballads with his rich, velvety-smooth voice, Mathis had so many hit records in his first two years as a recording artist that in 1958 Columbia Records released an album called Johnny’s Greatest Hits, which was the very first time a record company compiled any singer or group’s most popular songs.   This Greatest Hits collection spent 490 continuous weeks on Billboard’s albums chart (that’s nearly 10 straight years), a record that still stands to this day.

Keep in mind that at this point in music history, all of Johnny Mathis’s peers such as Elvis Presley were recording rock ‘n’ roll music so for him to successfully record love ballads was quite unusual.

His most famous records include“Wonderful, Wonderful,” “Misty,” and “Maria.”

One song not as well known that he recorded was “Never Never Land” from the famous Broadway musical Peter Pan.  Full of haunting emotion, Mathis’s phrasing and octave range make this recording a treasure that any aspiring singer should study.  Mathis’s amazing breath control allows him to sing without taking a breath for long passages, one lasting 19 seconds.

However, if you were to ever just listen to one song by Mathis, go to YouTube and watch his 1978 performance of “Pieces of Dreams” on the Johnny Carson show.  At the end, he holds one note for nearly ½-minute.   At age 43, Mathis was only halfway through his life at that point, yet at the peak of his singing powers.

I have been fortunate to have hear Mathis perform several times.  He is such a gracious man and is still able to carry a tune.

This December he will give five Christmas concerts at five different venues from Ohio to California.  There is even a December date already set in Illinois for 2023 when he will be 88 years old.

If you have never seen him live, don’t overlook the opportunity to see and hear an icon.

Secret Recordings Reveal Rot in Public Figures

In the past week, two news stories about leaked secret recordings have further underscored the disease that those in power have: that they can do and say whatever they want and not be punished.

First, there was the leaked video of a Golden State Warrior basketball practice.   For those who don’t follow the sport, the Warriors have been one of the top teams in the sport for nearly a decade, winning another championship four months ago.  So one would think when such a happy group reconvened for practice to begin a new season, there would be a lot of love passed around.

Nope.

At the practice, the video shows Draymond Green methodically walking up to teammate Jordan Poole who pushes Green who reacts by punching him in the face, landing Poole on the ground.

Someone was high up in the stands videotaping the encounter, then leaked it to the press.

Green has a history of losing his temper so the assault wasn’t that surprising.  What was surprising was the team’s reaction to it.

Management was more upset at the person who taped it and leaked it than Green assaulting a teammate.

What?  More anger towards someone recording an attack than the attack itself?

Think about this.  Green makes $25 million a year.  That’s more that almost all Americans.  Yet he can’t control himself and punches a teammate in front of the rest of the team as if it’s no big deal.  Just what’s wrong with that guy?

Read what he said back in May when the NBA fined him $25,000 for flipping off fans:

“I’ll do an appearance and make up the money. It felt really good to flip them off. … I make $25 million a year. I should be just fine.”

Just another example of how money does not make a person more mature or decent.

Several sports commentators shrugged their shoulders at the whole thing, saying that such infighting happens all the time on teams; it’s just this time it was recorded on videotape.

Nearly a week later, the NBA still hasn’t taken disciplinary action against Green for something much more serious than showing his middle fingers.  Pitiful. 

When I saw the video, I couldn’t help but think about the last time I saw a prominent Black man hit another and that was back in March when Will Smith slapped Chris Rock on the live Oscar telecast.  In both cases, no charges were filed against either man.  What’s troubling, though, is that these privileged entertainers don’t seem to care about the ugly stereotype they drudge up about Black men being violent.  They should be smarter than that.

Next, let’s look at the leaked audio recording of three members of the Los Angeles City Council, President Nury Martinez, Kevin de Leon, and Gil Cedillo, and the L.A. Federation of Labor President Ron Herrera. 

In a closed-door meeting last year, the four of them were talking about how to chop up the Los Angeles area into districts along ethnic lines that would most benefit their re-election.  During their conversation they end up offended most ethnic groups.

What’s worse than the racist language and laughter heard on the tape is how comfortable these four people felt insulting their colleagues and people of a different heritage.  You would think that they would have been smarter speaking this way at home on their personal cell phones, not in a boardroom doing official city business.  By the way, these were Latino leaders on the council who should know better than insult other minority groups.

Once this story broke over the past weekend, all four individuals heard on the tape released watered-down apologies.  Even Mayor Eric Garcetti’s statement condemned the remarks but stopped short of asking for them to step down.  It was only after the social media storm blew over like Hurricane Ian with several voices crying out for them to leave did Garcetti release a stronger statement calling for their resignations.

Just as with the Warrior situation, the immediate outcry centered on the recording having been done illegally without the consent of those present.   You mean the legality of the recording is the more crucial issue than the knowledge that L.A. City Council has elected officials who have racial animus towards their own colleagues?  This isn’t some small town in the Ozarks, this is the second largest city in America with dozens and dozens of different ethnic groups.

In both of these cases, powerful people felt safe to show an ugly side of themselves to those they work with, without fear of approbation or consequences.   It is no surprise these privileged people act way; the only surprise is that someone recorded it and caught them in the act.

Smart police officers have to do their job expecting that their every moved could be captured on a cell phone.  The same approach should apply to anyone who interacts with the public.

Surely that wasn’t the first time Green punched a teammate.  Nor was it only one meeting where councilmembers insulted thousands of Angelenos.

It took two days for labor leader Herrera to resign, five days for Martinez to resign.  What about the other two?  Ultimately, they, too, will be forced out.  Yet the prejudices cannot easily be erased. 

The Heat is On and On and On

The heat is on.

No matter if you believe scientists that earth is warming up or not, the proof is in the temperatures.

My town of Burbank over the past 60 years has become hotter.

For years, Burbank would get a couple of heat waves that would last up to a week.  This year, in addition to the predictable short-term heat waves, there have been multiple  sustained streaks of 90 degree plus days, one after another, without hardly an 89-degree day in a 14-day forecast.

That means running air conditioning more hours and terrible sweaty nights for those who live without air conditioners.

My house rarely cools down.  Most 6:00 a.m. mornings the thermostat registers 78 degrees, the house barely cooling off.   Normally on hot days, my A/C kicks on around 1:30 p.m.  This year I have lost track of how often it has kicked on as early as 10:30 a.m.

It makes one want to drive anywhere along the coast just to remind one’s self what a nice day used to feel like.

I’m not making this up.

Just compare the number of 90 degrees or warmer days from 2021 to 2022 during the summer months:

June 2021:  4/30

June 2022:  16/30

July 2021: 16/31

July 2022:  17/31

August 2021: 19/31

August 2022:  24/31

September 2021:  11/30

September 2022: 17/30

In June, in just one year, the hot days quadrupled; in September, there was a 50% increase.

And just as October begins with more normal temps in the 80’s, boom, five straight days of near mid-90’s weather yet again.  Burbank’s average October temperature is supposed to be 81.  Meaning if there is a 91-degree day, there would have to be a 71-degree day to average out to 81.

The only way out of the situation besides moving away is to watch movies like “Ice Station Zebra,” “Jack Frost,” or “Frozen.”   Stay away from “The Big Heat,” “Body Heat,” and “Some Like it Hot.”

Maybe there exists a video loop like the roaring fire people watch during Christmas time, but instead of a fireplace, it’s a blizzard outside.  Then at least I can my hot chocolate.

Empty Nesters? Not True.

I’m lying in bed waiting to fall asleep.  But there’s one problem.

It’s too quiet. 

My light sleeper ears aren’t picking up laughter, water running or doors shutting.  Yet my hearing radar is still working overtime.  Remember that old Simon and Garfunkel song, “The Sound of Silence”?

Well, it’s playing now every night in the Crosby home.

In a two-month whirlwind span, our children moved out.  We went from a household of four to a household of two (not including the dog).  Son number one moved out of state for a job; son number two moved up the state to attend college.

What happened to our happy family?  Remember that lyric from Frank Sinatra’s “That’s Life”:

“You’re riding high in April, shot down in May.”  That’s how I feel though April lasted 23 years, 23 years of parenthood.

The last time my wife and I had the house all to ourselves we weren’t even living in this house.  We’d have to travel back to our first abode when, except for the final few months, we were just a couple of newlyweds.

For the first three years of our marriage, we were only two until we got a dog who was our surrogate son.  Thirteen months later, our first baby was born.

When we were budding parents, we read all the books about child rearing, heard all the advice from friends and family, “It’s going to go fast and then your kids will be gone.”

Now I know how true that is.  In the middle of the day-to-day parenting business, shuttling kids to school, taking them to baseball and music practice, going on summer vacations to national parks—you fool yourself that this is the rest of your life.  But no. 

At some point, the birdies need to leave the nest.  Our first son stayed with us for over 23 years; our second almost 19 years.

People tell us that after a while of living alone as a couple, we will enjoy spending time with just one another.  Oh, I know we will.  It’s just more exhilarating to share your life with your children.

What runs through my mind is the saying “the gift of life.”  I am now feeling how deep down true that idea is.  My wife and I are so blessed that we were able to bring into the world two people so that they can have a life of their own.  Passing that gift down is the greatest inheritance a parent can leave a child.  Empty nesters?  Naw, more like full family tree.

Right before going to bed on our second night of empty nest-hood, my wife shared a text from her mom who contacted our college son to see how dorm life was treating him.  It turns out that he (playing a sax) and his roommate (playing a keyboard) had an impromptu jazz session which attracted a crowd.

That message was my melatonin.  I don’t remember trying to fall asleep for I knew that my son was doing just fine.

You’ve Got to Have Hart-man

Lately I have obsessively been watching CBS journalist Steve Hartman’s “On the Road” videos.  Originally airing on the Friday edition of the “CBS Evening News,” Hartman’s segments emphasize the notion that good is inherent in nearly every person, that inside each one of us is the capacity to show grace towards one another.

After a daily diet of negative news ranging from Covid variants to nightmarish scenarios about the earth’s demise, “On the Road” is the antidote to despair.  Seeing how kind and decent people can be to one another provides oxygen to the soul.

He and his producer find the most touching stories across America, of people who have lost loved ones or the will to live, only to discover hope often through the kindness of strangers. 

Rarely can one watch his videos without tearing up and feeling good about fellow Americans.

Every weekday when my wife and I have lunch together, I can’t wait to share with her a new favorite Steve Hartman “On the Road” video. 

There are stories of student athletes who come up with ways to include kids who never have a chance to shine in a game such as a special needs boy given the ball to end a basketball game from the opposing team.

The restaurant owner who hires recovering addicts because everyone deserves a second chance.

There is a man whose right hand was damaged by an abusive father so he learned to play the piano with his left, leading to his first ever concert in his 70’s.

There are the police officers who help pay for an elderly man’s rose bouquet for his wife, one of the few moments the man’s memory breaks through his Alzheimer’s haze.

A stranger who comes across a soldier’s army uniform in a dumpster propelling her on a two-year hunt to return it to the surviving family, providing a tender memento for the son left behind.

There is the story of a 15-year-old wrestler who strives to win a state championship before his father loses his life to cancer.

A terminally ill mother who asks her nurse to adopt her son, leaving behind gifts for the birthdays she will miss.

For me, it makes me feel more human, reminding me of the type of person that I am at the same time guiding me towards the person I could become.

“On the Road” serves as a weekly sermon encouraging all of us to find the moments where we can reveal our deepest humanity to the most unlikely stranger.

What threads through all of these stories is the tenderness of its reporter.  Steve Hartman is a gentle listener, genuinely moved with each and every story.  He could not have been given a more apt last name.

Hugs not Hate

The hug seen ‘round the world.  Why are so many people reacting to the scene at a little league game the other day of a boy who was accidently plunked in his helmet calmly walking from first base to the pitching mound to hug the pitcher who was crying over his errant throw?

Because so many of us are starved for a glimpse of humanity no matter where it comes from; in this case, a child.

We all want to believe we are capable of doing what 12-year-old Isaiah “Zay” Jarvis of Poteau, Oklahoma did.   His act of forgiveness came from the heart, a gesture exhibiting empathy though both boys are on opposing teams.

A hug is a simple yet powerful gesture.  It conveys warmth, care and respect for another person.

Earlier this year CBS Sunday Morning aired a video about a man in Arkansas whose left side remained paralyzed after a stroke.  While he learned to get around life using just his right arm, the one thing that he craved but could not do was give two-arm hugs around his grandsons.  Then some industrious occupational therapy students at his daughter’s college developed a device called a hugger.  With it wrapped around his left wrist, he could use his right arm to move it around so that he could hug them.  The emotional moment was captured on this link.

Another heartwarming hug happened in a market between an 82-year-old widower depressed over the loss of his wife and a 4-year-old girl who demanded a hug from who she called an “old person.”  Thus began weekly visits between the two.  The man calls the girl an angel since she rescued him out of his gloomy state of mind.

Finally, watch this innocent story about two little girls—one black, one white—who viewed themselves as twins.  And when an older child pointed out to one of the girls why they couldn’t possibly be twins due to their different race, the child burst into tears then came up with an inspirational reply.

It would be simple-minded to believe that if people of different races, religions, ages, or politics would hug each other instead of yell at each other, the world’s troubles would go away.

It is simple, however, that a preschool child can find healing words that grown-ups can’t seem to conjure:   “We are twins because we share the same soul.”  May that be the credo we all listen to in our hearts.

Vinny is Gone

Whenever an unbelievable major news event occurs, I absorb all readings and viewings of the event so that the reality finally registers.  And so it is with the passing of Hall of Fame Dodger announcer Vin Scully.

Even though I never met him (a wish that never came true), Vin Scully’s death at age 94 hits me hard.

Vin Scully outlived my father and my mother during my lifetime.

I was 14 when my father died.

I was 47 when my mother died.

I am 64 when Vin Scully died.

The year 1958 is very precious to me.  It was the year I was born.  And it was the year the Dodgers moved from Brooklyn to Los Angeles.

Perhaps that explains why I am a lifetime Dodger fan.  However, the person responsible for that love for baseball and the Dodgers is Vinny.

He was always Vinny to me because he was talking to me on my transistor radio, describing what he was seeing on the field.

I held on to each precious word he broadcast from the time he greeted us with “Hi everybody and a very pleasant good evening to you wherever you may be” to signing off with a “Good night, everybody.” His dulcet tones were soothing, comforting.  He was our security blanket from April to September.

If I was driving home and putting away my car in the garage, I wouldn’t turn off the radio until Vinny finished the half-inning.

It is why whenever Vinny would do a playoff game on the radio, I would turn off the TV volume so I could hear his unique depictions of the game, always adding personal stories of baseball players he knew that spanned much of the 20th century.

I always looked forward to his history lessons on Memorial Day and Independence Day.  He was a true patriot, a lover of this country as when he remarked “Can you imagine that?”

when two spectators at Dodger Stadium ran onto the field to burn an American flag (then Chicago Cub outfielder Rick Monday famously rescued it).

His calming but firm words at the start of the first Dodger game after the Sept. 11th attacks in 2001 were the appropriate way to soothe all of us shaken from that dastardly terrorist attack on U.S. soil.

All of us were truly fortunate that he had such a long life and broadcast for 67 years working for the same employer. 

There will never be another Vin Scully.  Besides the gentlemanly traits that he imbued—decency, kindness, class—he broadcasted in an era where only one announcer was in the booth meaning that he had a personal connection to the listener or viewer.  Even when it became fashionable to have one or two analysts sit with the play-by-play announcer, Vinny held his ground that he didn’t want to lose that attachment with the fans and so the Dodgers never forced him to change his ways.

That is why the Dodger games haven’t been the same since he retired in 2016.  Hearing two people talk to one another instead of talking to the fans feels remote as if we are eavesdropping on buddies joking with each other in the broadcast booth, instead of a person who we feel is a friend or a member of the family.

Here is just a small sample of the type of calls I will forever remember Vinny making:

On using poetry:  “Deuces wild.  Second inning, two on, two out, two and two count, tied at two.”

On a home run:  “Away back, she is gone!”

On a bases clearing double:  “In comes Buckner, in comes Russell, here comes Cey on a double by Garvey!”

Eerily, the very day before his passing, I emailed Los Angeles Times sports columnist Bill Plaschke about his health.  I noticed that the last post on his Twitter account was from May 6.

“I find this odd considering normally he would comment on the Sandy Koufax statue ceremony last month,” I wrote.  “Is he doing okay?”

“Good catch Brian,” Plaschke wrote back. “I haven’t spoken to him in a while…no idea how he’s doing…but as always, it’s worth monitoring.”

Twenty-four hours later he was gone.

This is a difficult column to write, not just because of Vinny’s passing, but it means that this will be the final time I will write about him.

There are few people we encounter in life that we wish would live forever.  For me, Vin Scully would be on that short list.

Saying Goodbye to Old Bertha

When a person goes through life stages, from single to married to parenthood, one’s car choices mirror that stage.  For example, a teenager or twentysomething is more likely to choose a two-door sporty car, while a parent will gravitate toward a minivan that maximizes passenger and storage capacity.

In the summer of 1999, my wife and I along with our three-month old moved into a larger house.  We were planning to have another child, so besides going from a 2-bedroom to a 3-bedroom home, we knew our twin Toyota Corollas were not enough.

So, with the proceeds of the sale of our first house, we were able to do something that we had never done before nor have we done since—pay cash for a car.  It was one of those fantasies that people like us rarely realize.

That is why we immediately became attached to the 2000 Volvo V70 GLT in blue.  It wasn’t just a station wagon.  It was a companion that would be with us throughout our parenthood as we raised our kids.

My wife and I are the type of people who like to buy new cars, then keep them for more than 10 years.  As I approach 50 years of driving, I have only had five cars.

As the years went on, and our first son got his driver’s license, we gave him the keys to the Volvo affectionately nicknamed Old Bertha.  Though 16 years old, it still looked good, but more importantly its steel cage protected our son just in case of an accident. 

Once he drove to college, Old Bertha was showing her age.  Interior plastic parts were beginning to fall apart, and the rear gate was wonky.  On top of that, her clear coat was disintegrating on the roof and the hood which made the car look unsightly.

When my wife purchased a new car, it meant that our son could now drive her used car that was a 2010 model year instead of 2000.  It was an upgrade. 

However, we still held on to Old Bertha because in a few years our other son would need a car.

We were fortunate that neither of our sons were attracted to status symbols.  They didn’t care if this old luxury wagon didn’t look cool.  They were pleased just to have a running, safe car.

In holding on to Old Bertha for 23 years, my wife and I were able to “afford” to give her to each of our sons as their first car.  We had no payments ever on that car so why should we go into debt in getting them a new Smart car that could never match up with the safety of a Volvo?

Some parents buy their teenagers brand new cars.  I don’t think that’s a bright idea.  Young people especially males are the worst drivers causing the most accidents of any age group ergo the high insurance premiums.  Why give them an expensive new car?  And since the most affordable new cars tend to be sub-compact size, they are the least safe to be on the road against the massive three-passenger row SUVs that clog the highways.

Also, it is important for young people to learn the value of material items.  To hand over the keys to a six-figure luxury car is to ensure the child will never learn that lesson.

In the last couple of years, Old Bertha really began showing her age.  More dilapidated moldings coming off, the radio and CD player inoperable and, most alarming, the car doors could never be locked despite fixes in a repair shop.  Still, she did her job of transporting our youngest.

Now that our oldest son has moved out and bought his very first car, we were left with four cars for three people.  Clearly, Old Bertha was the odd girl out due to her age.

We decided to donate her to a charity where her parts such as tires and battery would hold more value than the 181,000-mile whole car would.  It’s like people who have donor cards; upon their death, their organs can be harvested to give life to others. Not a bad way to go.

Still, as my wife and I stood outside our home watching the tow truck driver hitch up Old Bertha, clearly the oldest of the four cars he had collected that day, we couldn’t help but feel sad to see her slowly fade away down the street. 

She was a good girl for 23 years, with us on all our road trips to national parks, from Yosemite to Zion to Yellowstone.  She was there for all the boys as they grew up, from baby seat to toddler seat, from soccer to baseball games, as well as providing rides for our dogs Buster and Noble.  She was part of our family. 

If we are lucky to live long enough, we will eventually have to say goodbye to loved ones: parents, siblings and pets.  It is never easy letting go.  But, oh, how our lives were enriched with a 2000 Volvo V70 GLT named Old Bertha.  Our family history would never be complete without her.