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February 26, 2009

News & Features

Rust in peace: It's hard to let go of a car that's become a part of you

Associated Press

Wanda the Honda

Illustration by Amber Tafoya

CHICAGO -- I've never considered myself materialistic. I don't like to shop. I own maybe five pairs of shoes, and would much rather spend money on an adventure, a good cause or a gift.

That said, once I find something I like, I am loyal. A creature of habit. So this might explain my response the day I donated my trusty Honda Civic to the American Cancer Society.

I cried, OK? Embarrassing as that is, I stood in the street sobbing like a baby as the tow truck pulled away with the little red heap of metal, rust and oil that had come to be known as Wanda the Honda.

When I think about it, it wasn't so much the car I was crying over. Certainly not the trips to the mechanic that had become all too common in Wanda's later years. Mind you, she was fun to drive, with her manual transmission, and was pretty darn good on gas. She could fit into just about any parking spot, a handy trait in cities like Chicago. And she had a driver's seat that -- worn and torn over tens of thousands of miles together -- felt like mine and mine alone.

But in the end, as I watched her roll away, that wasn't really what I missed.

What I was mourning was the end of a 13-year life chapter that began when I walked into a car dealership in Bloomington, Minn., and bought a car, with no help from anyone. I probably didn't make as good a deal as I could have. But it was one of those moments in life when I knew I was really an adult.

Wanda was my responsibility and, for many years to come, my steady companion.

But still, to this day, there's that nagging embarrassment over my attachment to an inanimate object.

I asked Lou Manza, head of the psychology department at Lebanon Valley College in Annville, Pa., about it, and turns out even he could relate to my story.

Manza tells me that he felt similar pangs when he cleared out his family minivan, noting the dents left by infant car seats once used by his children.

Mind you, he didn't cry. "I was happy to trade it in for a little sports car," he says, a bit gleefully. "But I was like, 'Wow! It's gone!' "

Manza and others say it's common for an object to feel like it has become a part of you. And in moderation, he says, that's perfectly fine, even normal. The worry comes if the object takes over.

"So when someone is home at night dusting off the car as opposed to having dinner with their family, then maybe it's not such a good thing," Manza says.


Illustration by Amber Tafoya

Anyone who knows me would laugh at the thought that I might clean my car too much. Truth is, Wanda's presence in my life, and my attachment to her, never really got in the way of life. If anything, she helped it along.

She was just mine, at a special time in life that has, lucky for me, made way for yet another one -- and a current car that's more likely to be crammed with sippy cups and cracker crumbs.

Still, to this day, whenever I come upon an older model red Civic hatchback, I smile and wonder if it's Wanda. I also recall that sad, rainy day we parted ways -- and how I made those who witnessed my tears promise never to tell anyone that I cried over a car.

So much for that secret, eh?


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