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.

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