Well, it’s official.
Essie, our beloved Ford Escort of eleven years, is in her death throes.
It’s hard to say when her downward spiral started. That infuriating red “check engine” light came on forty thousand miles ago and just never went away, no matter how many times we took her in for a check-up, but we learned to live with it. Over the years, she occasionally needed this or that part replaced, her brakes repaired, or her tires aligned, but it was never anything serious. About six months ago, the lights in the dashboard went out, leaving us to guess how fast we were going anytime we traveled after dark, but it was a minor inconvenience at worst. We were (mostly) faithful about her quarterly engine service appointments, and, in blatant denial of her Ford-ish origins, we were somehow convinced that she would keep running for years to come.
Then one day, this past fall, it happened for the first time. Sitting at a red light, waiting to turn right, Essie shifted herself out of Drive and into Neutral. The light turned green, I pressed on the gas pedal, and the engine revved, but we went…nowhere. Confused, I tried again. After an interminable four or five seconds, the engine caught and on we went, as if nothing had happened. But we both knew that wasn’t true. It was the first of many times she would pop out of gear, and romancing her touchy transmission back into forward motion became an artistic exercise, involving everything from running the gear shift through all the gears to restarting the engine, all while the people behind us were looking pointedly at their watches and tapping their horns.
Essie’s occasional lapses in reliability soon became frequent lapses, and we took her in to the shop, so Paul’s dad could bring her back to life as he had done so many times in the past. His auto-mechanics class found and fixed a few problems (there is always something to fix on a Ford) and gave her back to us. For a few days, she was fine, and we thought the problem had been solved. Until it happened again. And then again. And again.
As Essie’s downshifting problem increased in frequency, we noticed a few things. It was worse when it was cold. Or when we were forced to brake quickly. Or when we talked about Essie’s “little problem” anywhere within her earshot. She’s a sensitive car.
Finally, one day on the way to church, she popped out of gear at a red light, and no amount of cajoling could get her going again. Fortunately, after five minutes or so, our friends Jim and Alyson pulled up behind us on their way to church. Jim hopped out to see what kind of trouble we were having, and he and Paul ended up pushing our car across three lanes of traffic, through the intersection, and onto a side road. We knew the time had come to figure something out.
Paul’s dad recommended that we take her to see a transmission specialist, so last night we dropped her off at Rod’s Transmission and waited with baited breath for the verdict.
Today, Rod called Paul, and this is what he said:
“It’s time to start looking for a new car.”
He said that the transmission fluid was looking pretty dark, but that if he flushed it out, she’d probably stop working altogether. He said we could probably get a few more days or weeks out of her, but not to go on any long trips. He said some stuff about the flywheel and rpms and wear and tear. He said something that sounded like “total transmission rebuild”.
And he definitely said “thousands of dollars to fix”.
So today we went to pick up our car…and we brought her home to die.
I know she’s just a car, but I’m sad. I started remembering today how excited we were to get her back in 1999. She had just 1300 miles on her and was practically brand new. We got an amazing deal and I remember feeling like God had led us to the perfect car for our freshly minted family of three. She carried both our babies safely across three states, and we took scores of road trips in her, playing games and singing out loud as we rode along with our feet up on the dashboard. She bears the scars of spilled juice, smashed raisins, and worse in her worn-out upholstery, but she bears them with dignity. When Caleb was three, he called her “our red race car”, and she tried her best to live up to the name. It’s harder to say goodbye than I thought.
We’ll still drive her, of course. We have no choice. We’re going to buy my parents’ 2006 Honda Civic, but the plan is for my sister to drive it up here when she and her husband move in early April. I hope Essie can hold out that long. We always said we would drive her until she stopped moving. Who knew she would take that so literally?
From the bottom of our hearts, Essie, we thank you.
You had a good run.