“I have a mule, her name is Sal, Fifteen miles on the Erie Canal.”
I learned that old New York State folk song in elementary school. Ever since then, I’ve wanted a mule. Maybe because my name is Sal.
I’ll probably never have a mule, but I did have a Volvo.
In January 1991, my then-husband and I paid $19,256 cash (don’t ask me why cash–it’s a long, stupid story) for a new, 4-cylinder, 5-speed manual transmission 1990 Volvo 2.4 L 240DL, a silver station wagon. We lived in Northern Maryland at the time. I didn’t like the white one the dealer had available, so he found me this one in Pennsylvania.
The Volvo was the only constant in my crazy life for the last 21 years. That’s a whole generation.
I packed her with my own and my kids’ belongings when I left my first marriage. She was filled to the roof when I moved from Baltimore to San Jose. That trip cracked the front brake rotor, probably while going over the Rockies. My new husband and I filled her to the brim again when we peeled out of San Jose on the way to our new home in Texas.
In Northern California, we used the Volvo to transport our seakayaks to the water, from Monterey Bay in the south to Bodega Bay in the north. Here she is with four kayaks on top and one inside. She was 15 years old then, but still handled like new.
We drove that car all the way up to Vancouver, Canada, and down to La Bufadora on the Punta Banda Peninsula in Baja California, southwest of Ensenada.
Lately, my daughter had deja vu each time she sat inside. This is the car that took her back and forth to fifth grade. Now she’s 31.
After twenty years without a scratch, my Volvo was attacked by a buck at 11:30 one night as my husband drove home from a meeting. The buck bounced off the top of her left front fender, leaving a neat antler-shaped depression. He ricocheted off the left rear door and cracked a hubcap. The buck was totaled. Since my insurance company estimated that repairing the bodywork would cost more than the car’s book value, my Volvo was also considered totaled.
Ha! Little did they know….
Last fall the odometer stopped working, as though she decided she wasn’t going to get any older. A mechanic told me she needed transmission work, maybe, maybe not. This wasn’t surprising since the transmission had never been touched in 22 years. But he held her for a month before telling me. I needed transportation.
So—betrayal! I bought another car!
My Volvo sulked in the driveway for a week, nose pointed downhill, ignoring my new Subaru. I didn’t like the sulking, so I turned her around with her nose pointed uphill. That gave her a whole different outlook. I could see she wanted to go adventuring again.
After 21 years, my Volvo sold less than 48 hours after I put the ad on Craigslist.
I had a moment of panic when the new owner drove her away. My keyring still feels too light without her key on it. She took good care of me for a long time.
I thought that when her engine finally failed, I’d park her behind the garage and use her as an extra office, since I’d written so much over the years while sitting in the front seat. Instead, my silver station wagon is going to have a whole new life with a new owner. I could tell he’s going to love her just as well as I did.
When I first planned this post, I thought it would be an obituary. But that old Volvo has another ten years of life in her. She may last another twenty. She may still be touring around when I’m gone.
I wouldn’t be surprised.
By S.J. Driscoll