Ode to a Mini-Van

Kelly Salasin

I’m filled with sadness after abandoning our mini-van for better mileage and $4,500 from the government. I’m like one of those people who others belittle because they can’t get over the loss of a pet–and my loss isn’t even a living thing.

It’s a half-hour drive home from the Honda dealership where I abandoned our vehicle so I have lots of time to ponder this inexplicable grief over a hunk of metal.  I never felt like this over my blender or even a dishwasher so maybe it has more to do with the fact that my kids grew up inside the walls of this car–and so did our family.

I didn’t succumb to the whole “mini-van” thing until our youngest was almost 2; and  I immediately regretted my stubborness which left me without the convenience of a spacious vehicle through the early infancy months of nursing and diapering.

I can still see my son’s chubby legs dangling out of our Jetta in a parking lot as I quickly diapered him in Vermont’s twenty-degree weather.  Breastfeeding in the bucket seats wasn’t much better and afforded little privacy.   I still daydream about all the nursing naps that we could have taken in the back seats of the van’s tinted windows.

I held onto our small sporty cars as long as I could.  I loved the powerful feeling of shifting into higher gear as I accelerated; and  after two kids, “driving” was about the only thing left of my original identity.

Once relinquished however, I quickly softened into the ease of an automatic.  I could pass out snacks, change a cd and even cross an intersection on a steep hill without threatening our safety.

Given how much of our day-to-day lives are lived inside our vehicles, maybe it’s a no-brainer to be sad about saying goodbye.

I remember sitting on the curb outside my apartment in tears when my first drive was loaded on a flatbed for the dump. And although that Lynx was a pain in the rear-end, it was also a dear friend.  When my family was falling apart during high school, I could always jump into that car and head to a friend’s house for the night.

The truth is that I was ready to let the mini-van go–and  have been for years.  With both boys in school, I’ve spent a lot of time driving in it–alone.  It’s one thing to go from independent young woman in a sporty little car to a mother in a mini-van–and it’s quite another to be a middle-aged woman driving in a mini-van all by herself.

And yet, I imagined a different legacy for the van than the one we gave it.  I imagined it passed on to another young family who would benefit from the extra space for diaper bags and cars seats and strollers; family trips and friends and winter gear.  I never imagined it turned into scrap metal just because we no longer needed its trusty service.

I remember the kind father of two who sold us the van for less than its bluebook value with only 30,000 miles under its hood.  His own kids had grown up; and he was happy for ours to have the use of it.

As fate would have it, the mini-van’s longstanding good health took a turn for the worse in the weeks before the Cash for Clunkers program went through.  Suddenly, it wouldn’t drive more than 20 miles an hour.

On its last day as part of the family, we all said our goodbyes in the driveway as we emptied all signs of our lives from inside it.  A lost library book, a hammer, a family photo–these were among the things found within its seats. As is true in every mini-van, there were enough food crumbs on the floor to feed several families of mice, not to mention: toys, rubberbands, pens and pencils–all the stuff of the parenting time of life.

Perhaps this is what it truly means to say goodbye to this particular car–it’s saying goodbye to a precious chapter of our lives.

As we finished the emptying process, my youngest asked, “What about the bumper stickers?”

Until the mini-van and motherhood, I didn’t believe in defacing a car with stickers, but gradually, they too became a part of our growing family identity with slogans like: “Grow Slowly,”  “Food Not Bombs,” “Bernie,” and “HOPE-Obama 2008.”

After expressing his own feelings of loss for the only vehicle he has ever known, my son asks, “Can I see it get crushed?”

I am always surprised at the ability my youngest has to hold both compassion and reality with such ease.  Unlike my husband and I, our sons have grown up in rural Vermont–around hunters and farmers– who kill the animals they eat.

I am much more conflicted in sending our mini-van to its death.  After two bouts of unemployment, we need that $4,500 credit toward a more economical car, and of course, we want to protect the environment for future generations; But even with this awareness, I’m not at peace with the ending my car is forced to face.

On my ride home from the dealership, I get nostalgic about our life together.  I remember the first time we drove into town and how the word got out that our van had a television and VCR inside–when most of our friends and our own family didn’t have a television in our  homes.  The kids in our neighborhood started calling it “The TV Van.”

As I imagine it being scrapped, I wonder what of us is left inside. I’m sure we missed tiny treasures under the carpets.  It’s such a dramatic ending to this period of our lives, but it’s also been a bit magical.

Not only did the MPV show an uncharacteristic display of deterioration in the sudden loss of its transmission, but the new car which would replace it, seemed to reach out to us–just as the van was letting go.

We spent weeks trying to figure out what car to buy when the dealership called to say that they had a silver Honda Civic on the lot.  It wasn’t of any particular interest to us–until we visited the library that afternoon.

Just as I was about to check out books for our summer vacation, the librarian uncharacteristically raised her voice over the hushed room and announced that someone with a “silver Honda” had left their lights on.

My husband totally missed the coincidence until we stepped outside onto Main Street and right in front of us was: a silver Honda.

We were tickled, but not convinced–until we got home.  While surfing the net for other options, I detoured to Twitter to check my messages, coming upon a great quote shared by a friend.  “Look at this,” I said to my husband, who seemed more interested in the author than the words.

That’s the same name as the salesman that called about the silver Honda,” he told me, and we knew–this was our new car.

Actually, we tried to get a bunch of different colors because my first car had been silver and it was such a lemon; but in the end, after the goverment’s deal went through, there was only one manual Civic left in a hundred miles–and it was the silver one–and now it’s ours.

When I sat behind the steering wheel of my mini-van one last time, I felt all the energy that had been lived inside–all the laughter and tears and arguments; the story tapes played, the family trips taken, the drives to and from school.

I remember my own mother behind the steering wheel of our family van when it faced yet another cold Colorado morning.  She’d tell us to offer it nothing but words of gratitude as we prayed for it to start–one more time.

As silly as it may sound, it’s gratitude that I feel for our mini-van.  Wherever it is now, I want to say, “Thank you and God speed.  May you reincarnate into something spectacular!”

3 thoughts on “Ode to a Mini-Van

Add yours

  1. I absolutely have to agree. Cars often hold a lot of memories and history, so I think it might be a good idea for some dealers to identify which cars have historical value and intstead of relegating them to the scrap heap, donate them to a automobile museum.


  2. I know exactly how you feel. My wife and I recently traded in our 1990 Astro Van for a new Dodge Caliber under the “Cash for Clunkers” program. We had bought the Astro new, and put 183,000 miles on it over the past 19+ years. The Astro was definitely like a part of the family; having taken us on many family vacations to Florida, carting the kids and their projects to school, moving their belonging to and from college, and all sorts of useful tasks.

    But now the kids are grown and moved away. I still drove the Astro regularly, but this was the first summer which the air conditioning failed to work. It was going to need over $1000 in tires, brakes, battery, and other repairs soon.

    We looked at various vehicles for two months before the CARS program started. On July 24, we traded the Astro in on the new Dodge. My wife was very emotional during the paperwork. I had commented that we didn’t even have a picture of the old van. As we were leaving the dealership in our new car, the salesman handed my wife an 8×10 photo of the Astro.

    The final fate of the Astro is still undetermined. From the McDonalds where we often have supper, we can still see the van in the back of the dealer’s lot. 1990 Astro Van, we will never forget thee.


    1. Thanks for sharing your journey with you car. It’s funny how much they mean to us. That’s so great the dealer gave your wife a photo! The government is going to have to start training these guys to offer therapy for clunker remorse 🙂


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