I never quite understood how people come to be so emotionally attached to inanimate objects, cars especially. That is until I became one of those people.
It all started in 1996 when I was twenty-two years old. I was a year out of college and I didn’t have a “real” job but I was applying to law schools. I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. Then one day in early April, I was browsing the jobs section of the Chicago Tribune (the actual newspaper, not online; it was 1996 after all) and I saw an ad that read, “Want to work in Yellowstone National Park?” Of course I did! So I followed the instructions, mailing away for an application which I had to fill out and mail back in. Not two weeks later, I received a packet in the mail with a congratulatory letter and a Yellowstone Employee Handbook. I was hired and due to report to Mammoth Hot Springs in early May.
Much to the dismay of my father, my law school applications were put on hold and I began making plans to head west. But how was I going to get there? I could fly into Bozeman, but then how would I get from there to Yellowstone? I could take the Greyhound from Chicago to Livingston, but who wants to sit on a bus for all those hours? And then I still had no way to get from there to Mammoth Hot Springs. Seems I had no choice but to go car shopping. Mind you, I knew nothing about cars (I still don’t know a whole lot now) and my mother knew even less. But she and I visited a dealership owned by a friend of my father’s so we figured we were in good hands.
Long story short, I was shown a handful of brand new cars but one in particular really stood out to me. It was a 1996 Chevrolet Cavalier Z24, red in color. It was the perfect size, big enough for me and all my stuff to get out west. And it was cute. What twenty-two-year-old girl doesn’t want a cute, brand new car? So I decided on the Cavalier and then…. we started talking about finances. Oy. My head was spinning. I am so not math-minded and am easily confused by numbers. Seriously. I don’t know how or why it happened, but I ended up placing a phone call to my grandfather (Papa) and gave him an update. He very adamantly told me not to finance the car, that he would pay for it in full and I could make payments to him instead. Seemed like a deal I couldn’t pass up. So Papa showed up at the dealership with a check and I drove my brand new car off the lot.
I had no idea that this was to be the beginning of an adventurous, loving, and unnatural relationship. I had no idea that, almost twenty years later, I would have such an emotional bond to my little car.
A lot has happened in my life during the seventeen years since I acquired that Cavalier. First, I had the time of my life working and living in Yellowstone National Park. I met so many awesome people, fellow employees, from all over the country. Many of those people became great friends, including “my best good friend Karrie Beck from Tulsa, Oklahoma”, who is responsible for giving my car its name, Dixie. Having Dixie there in Yellowstone allowed me the opportunity to explore the region and have adventures in other parts of Wyoming and Montana. So many happy memories of meandering through and around the mountains with my friends or with my love interest of the moment. Dixie simply became a symbol of all that made me happy. I never wanted to drive any other car.
I returned home from Yellowstone to take a “real” job and Dixie of course joined me. She still was my loyal companion. We took more road trips, I moved out of my family’s home and into my own apartment, I met a boy that years later became my husband…. My life was changing, moving forward, but one constant remained: my faithful Dixie. The same can be said for my Papa. I was a grown woman, in my 20s, and closer with my grandfather than ever. He was a feisty and devout Marine who still believed in discipline and order, and in the occasional martini. My world shattered in April of 2001 when Papa unexpectedly passed away. I was left with all of the memories of Papa, with his transistor radio that we used to listen to baseball games together, and with Dixie. I was never going to let go of any of it.
Unfortunately, time and regular wear and tear caught up with Dixie. She just wasn’t running well anymore and it would cost way too much to fix her up and get her back in working condition. Dixie was retired to a corner of our garage, never to run again. As our family and our possessions grew (namely a vintage Jeep and an RV), that garage space was becoming more and more valuable. My husband begged me to part with Dixie. I couldn’t. I just… couldn’t. We’d talk about it and I’d end up in tears, sobbing uncontrollably. Dixie held so many years’ worth of incredible memories and was the last physical connection I had to my Papa. I was never letting her go…
Until last week. Rational Francesca overtook Sentimental Francesca. It was time. It didn’t stop me from crying like a baby the night before Dixie was towed away, as I took a few last good looks at her. Dixie was my first travel partner. She will not be my last, but in many ways, she was the best.