Letting go of my original travel partner

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.

My best good friend & I Yellowstone, 1996

My best good friend & I
Yellowstone, 1996

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.

Papa & I, circa 1994

Papa & I, circa 1994

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.

Dixie, 1996-2013

Dixie, 1996-2013

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25 Responses to Letting go of my original travel partner

  1. Pola (Jetting Around) November 19, 2013 at 11:58 pm #

    Uh oh, I think I’ll be sobbing with you, Francesca… What a story! Dixie may not be in the garage anymore, but this is a beautiful post to remember your travel buddy. And by the way, I had no idea you considered law school!
    Pola (Jetting Around) recently posted…Featured Photos: Avenida Corrientes in Buenos AiresMy Profile

    • Francesca December 18, 2013 at 9:46 pm #

      Thanks, Pola. That’s exactly why I wrote this. I don’t ever want to forget Dixie – not that I ever will. And yes, I actually was accepted into and attended law school. I eventually dropped out; I hated it and I’m not ashamed to admit it.

  2. Traci November 20, 2013 at 8:16 am #

    First cars are so much more than transportation. They’re symbols of many types of independence. My Mitsubishi Eclipse brought me from my parent’s home in FL to NY, where I got my first real job, apartment, and life on my own terms. I’ll never forget it!
    Traci recently posted…World’s Largest Gingerbread Exhibit … maybeMy Profile

    • Francesca December 18, 2013 at 9:47 pm #

      That’s exactly it, Traci. You get it! It’s not just a “car”.

  3. Mary Anne November 20, 2013 at 12:23 pm #

    There is nothing like a great car. I feel your pain.

    • Francesca December 18, 2013 at 9:47 pm #

      Thanks, Mary Anne.

  4. Karrie Driesel November 20, 2013 at 12:50 pm #

    I’m crying- I never knew such a sweet backstory of Dixie. Or that you kept her so long after she stopped running. I remember such good times in that car including driving to Canada only to stay for what 6 hours? Just because we could:) or driving for an hour just to get a fish sandwich and fries from McDonald’s 🙂 I hope you kept a little piece of her to keep with you forever.

    • Francesca December 18, 2013 at 9:50 pm #

      Karrie, you’re a big part of my Dixie-related memories. We did have so many awesome times in that car. I did keep my Yellowstone park employee stickers that we had to put on the windshield. Mark even put them in a little frame for me. And we stayed in Canada (Calgary, to be exact) for more than six hours… it was about 36 🙂

  5. Laura November 20, 2013 at 8:45 pm #

    I know how much you love that car! She served you well!

    • Francesca December 18, 2013 at 9:51 pm #

      She sure did, Laura.

  6. Val - Corn, Beans, Pigs & Kids November 21, 2013 at 12:01 am #

    RIP Dixie
    That is a long time having your first car! When I traded in my first car I knew it was time but at the same time I couldn’t help but think of all the memories and other “firsts” I had in it. Enjoy the memories and enjoy the new possibilities for Dixie’s space in the garage.
    Val – Corn, Beans, Pigs & Kids recently posted…A Double Dose of FoodMy Profile

    • Francesca December 19, 2013 at 12:40 pm #

      That’s a great way to think about it, Val – and a great way to cope – to enjoy the new possibilities for all the extra space in the garage.

  7. the lazy travelers November 22, 2013 at 5:21 am #

    the hubs was the same way about his first car, and he had it for way less time (and it tried to kill us multiple times, so, i think his issues were more closely related to stockholm syndrome). rip dixie!
    the lazy travelers recently posted…laws to travel by – #48My Profile

    • Francesca December 19, 2013 at 12:41 pm #

      Stockholm Syndrome… lol! Always making me laugh, girls. Thank you 🙂

  8. lola dimarco November 22, 2013 at 9:42 pm #

    RIP Dixie!!
    lola dimarco recently posted…It’s #Movember – That Means Mustaches & #ManlyMomentsMy Profile

  9. Erin at The World Wanderer November 23, 2013 at 2:43 pm #

    Aww…this story! I love all the memories you acquired with Dixie by your side. I totally am the same way, not understanding emotional attachment to possessions, but there are certain items – like your car – that have memories attached to them, and it feels as if we are parting with those memories. Luckily, you still have your memories. PS Papa sounds like he was a pretty amazing man!
    Erin at The World Wanderer recently posted…Street Art of London: Photo Essay.My Profile

    • Francesca December 19, 2013 at 12:44 pm #

      Thank you, Erin. My Papa was pretty awesome. He was a scientist and traveled all over the world for work. I think my travel addiction is partly his fault!

  10. @mrsoaroundworld November 24, 2013 at 8:11 am #

    Ohhhhhh this is so sweet! Who will be your new travel partner?
    @mrsoaroundworld recently posted…The Luxury Travel Blog Network – November 2013 EditionMy Profile

    • Francesca December 19, 2013 at 12:45 pm #

      Well, I’ve got two little ones that I’m hoping to make my new travel partners!

  11. Raul (@ilivetotravel) November 25, 2013 at 3:19 pm #

    That must have been really hard but Papa is always with you – regardless of where Dixie ended up…
    Raul (@ilivetotravel) recently posted…Great Drive Series – A Switzerland SamplerMy Profile

    • Francesca December 19, 2013 at 12:45 pm #

      That’s what I need to remember, Raul….

  12. Traveling Ted November 25, 2013 at 5:38 pm #

    This is a great post because it evokes memories of my first car when I was reading. I had a 1985 Ford escort, and I put a Sh*t Happens sticker on the back. The car broke down on the way from Tennessee to Notre Dame for a football game, which was an epic story in of itself, and I had to put it down right then and there and take a greyhound home to college. I did not sob, as I was like sh*t happens, but I can see having the car tied to memories of lost family members could make the decision much harder.
    Traveling Ted recently posted…Santa Claus in TurkeyMy Profile

    • Francesca December 19, 2013 at 12:47 pm #

      Hands down, hardest decision I’ve ever made. And I could say that’s what you get for going to a Notre Dame football game… but you were going to cheer on your Vols. I guess I can forgive you.

  13. Jenna December 5, 2013 at 12:11 am #

    I hadn’t thought of this until now, but when I think back to cars I’ve had, a lot of great road trips were taken in them!
    Jenna recently posted…The Arts and Crafts Movement in the U.S.My Profile

    • Francesca December 19, 2013 at 12:47 pm #

      And no doubt lots of great memories associated with those road trips!

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