You never forget your first car.
Mine was a 1978 Toyota Corolla. It was primer gray and rust in color, meaning all the paint had chipped off it by the time I bought it when I was ready to get my license. It was nearly as old as I was.
The body was complete junk. Snow jumped up from the floorboards through rusted-out spots in the winter. It took about half an hour to heat it to a comfortable level, and its air conditioning involved rolling down the windows. One of the windows wouldn’t crank back up unless you pulled the glass.
It was how I made the three-hour treks back and forth to college. That same rust-bucket helped me move from college to my first job. I vowed to drive it until I died, which I did when the radiator finally exploded back in 1997.
I didn’t care a lick, though. It was mine. It was my freedom. It was my ticket out of my little village, and it turned out to be my ticket right back there too when I needed to feel like I was home. It helped me get to my first jobs, and it got me to some fun times. Many of my fondest memories of turning from a boy into a man involve that car.
I’ve been thinking a lot about that Corolla last week. You see, Friday was my oldest daughter’s 16th birthday. Before long, she’ll be taking her driving test and probably earning her driver license. My wife is excited about getting another driver in the family, because perhaps the oldest could shuttle people back and forth to events and practices too.
That’s why we worked out a deal with her to jointly purchase an 8-year-old car. She saved up her checks from a local ice cream place to help buy the car. She knows when she’s 18, it’s all hers.
We surprised her with it when she had some friends over for her birthday. She hadn’t realized we’d already purchased one she liked. She seemed overwhelmed when we walked her to our neighbor’s driveway to show her that car, complete with a red bow on top.
I don’t know what dreams of freedom she has once she can drive alone. I imagine she’s still processing it all; I know I am. That vehicle doesn’t just mean she can drive herself to work when she gets her license. It means she can leave town. It means she can pursue her dreams, no matter where they take her.
It means everything is changing a little too quickly for this dad who prefers to think of his oldest as an innocent 4-year-old girl. Sixteen was also our magical cut-off for dating boys. I’d rather take her driving around a curvy country road at 60 mph than have to endure that emotional roller coaster.
Sixteen is when she’ll start thinking about what kind of an adult she’ll be. She’ll start to make life-changing decisions about her future. And really, from here on out, it’s her future, not the future my wife and I provide for her.
For now, though, I’ll just try to enjoy her initial reactions to her first car.
I rode with her on her first trip around the block in it. complete with a flatulence-like noise in the back from that red bow vibrating in the wind. We laughed at that, and I truly hope it’s just the first of many great memories she has with that vehicle, just like I had with my first car.