Submitted by Madelyn Swan
My earliest memory in my car takes place in the small town of Bothell, Washington. My family was driving home and I distinctly remember sitting next to my brother’s car seat stationed in the middle of the second row. The handle arched over his body, dangling with toys that kept him entertained throughout long and short drives, most convenient when lifting his increasingly heavy seat. He must have been younger than a couple years old because he was backward so I faced him. It was dark outside, and I can remember the lights of the houses scattered on the hills surrounding us. In my mind, I can see what I saw those many years ago, but I don’t remember anything else about that night. However, I am okay with that, because the only things that matter about that memory are the people in the car and the places we drove in it.
This car has been through as much as I have. I grew up in the back seat of my family’s 2000 Chevrolet Tahoe until I was old enough to occupy the front passenger seat and finally, the seat behind the wheel. I waited years for the moment I would learn the technique needed to control the vehicle that my mom and dad had handled every year before me. The Tahoe was originally purchased to house my car seat when I was an infant, and it quickly became the family car. Over the seventeen years, we have had it, the fabric seats have invited a multitude of bodies to accompany them. The driver’s seat is the most introverted, only accepting the presence of three consistent family members and a few select friends to control the wheel. The passenger seat is more social, welcoming the bodies of friends and family with the best music taste in the car and the ones who do not fall asleep when it’s a late night drive. The backseat has had the largest variety of action, without a doubt. Up to six different car seats, three pets, one stranger, and countless friends and family members. Food and drinks have been spilled, seatbelts have and have not been worn, suitcases have dented the smooth material of the soft seats, and the pileup of dirt on the floor has grown over the years. The trunk is the least social of the truck, embracing everything from dog hair to blankets to beach toys and camping gear. At one point, my family’s entire life was packed into the trunk of that car. The Tahoe still carries smells that tell of its age; smells of people, animals, dirt, sweat, perfume, cologne, and that distinct car smell that reeks when you’ve been driving for too long.
My dad has always referred to the Tahoe as “the truck.” Originally I argued with him over the title because I did not believe the body of the car matched that of a truck. Now, I realize that the Tahoe is a truck, named so because of the terrain it has had to encounter. When my family first purchased the truck, we lived in Seattle, Washington. The beautiful city is green; sometimes too wet, never too dry, loud in the city but silent in the suburbs and forests. The days are longer in the summer and short in the winter, and every yard is complemented by a green lawn and at least one tree. Chimneys litter the skyline, puffing their toxic smoke into the air. When it rains you can hear the large drops pelting roofs and cars, and when it is windy you can hear the trees creaking and garbage cans falling to the ground. It is in this city that the Tahoe provided trips to church, friend outings, sports games, and family road trips. The greatest road trip being a thousand miles long journey from Seattle to San Diego. The rubber in the tires experienced the new texture of dry, cracked roads and the hood of the car entertained a new relationship with the sun. Heat rays on the roof are prominent almost every day, and the air conditioning is taken advantage of more often. As we adapted, so did the car.
Since my birth my family has always had two cars, however, no matter the circumstances, we have consistently stuck with the Tahoe. Trucks have been traded for vans and Subarus and Hondas, but the Tahoe has remained. The old 2001 Washington license plate that hangs above my bed reminds me of the age of the car, but also its assiduousness. The fabric seats comfort the skin in hot and cold weather, despite the danger of the metal seat belt buckles in the summer heat. The front bumper has recently come off and no longer are the back windows able to be rolled down from the back seat. I have learned the inside and out of the car by handwashing it, as my dad always requested instead of a professional car wash. The radio has been replaced along with the transmission, and I can tell a number of stories at different times the battery has died. Despite these imperfections, a car is still a car, and it embodies the people that ride it more than its flaws. The interior is soaked with every emotion that its riders have carried, and the hum of the engine compliments the echo of feelings that have been absorbed by the walls. Years of laughter from friends, family members, and strangers. The ringing of numerous tears shed from fights, babies, sadness, fear, and loneliness. Dozens of genres of music played as we travel to school and church, on road trips, and late night adventures. A hundred different voices singing the lyrics of those songs with passion, annoyance, sadness, and anger. Screams of fear and joy. Barking of three different dogs, and always, the consistent flow of conversation. Even when I drive alone.
When I was sixteen I learned how to drive in the Tahoe. Soon, my sister will do the same and take her place in the driver’s seat as I go off to college, and the car will continue to make its way through the family. It will not reach my baby sister, however, the lessons it has passed on will survive it. The large steering wheel – capable of inflicting a great feeling of wan and rapture – will not be of use forever, but will continue to aid its handlers through all contingencies until the engine gives out for good. I did not realize how fortunate I was to be able to drive a car that is safe and reliable until the Tahoe became my primary car, putting into perspective my life versus the lives of many others. The memories in this machine are humbling and the experiences are lessons learned.
Submitted by Madelyn Swan
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