So, the time has come to put the Jeep Cherokee down. Dave called me with the bad news late Friday afternoon. Blown head gasket. $3,000 to fix. The Jeep is 12 years old. Crap. Crap. Crap. I felt all of that clichéd lump in the back of my throat. I’ve literally been holding the Jeep together with bungee cords and small repairs/maintenance for the last couple of years. New radiator. New thermostat. New alternator. Oil changes. Until the wheels fall off, I’d say. It was pretty sad at our house this weekend. Mackenzie, my 14-year-old daughter, has NEVER been good with change. When she was 4, she lost her MIND when my parents got a new fridge. There was a lot of crying. She didn’t care too much when we had to flush her goldfish, but she REALLY loves the Jeep. We’re each coping in different ways. She’s mad at me because she thinks I moved on too quickly by already talking about getting a new car. She’s grieving for a little of her childhood. But so am I. Since she was a baby, it’s been just the two of us – until we met Dave. She grew up in that car. I watched it in the rearview mirror. For years, she’s planned on driving the Jeep when she turns 16.
I know it’s just a car, except that it’s not just a car. It’s Millie. Mackenzie, at age 5 or 6, named the Jeep after Madaket Millie, a Nantucket icon and determined old woman (I’m being gentle). And it fit. She became a part of our family to Kenz, just like our pets. I hate to anthropomorphize, but it can’t be helped here. Millie did seem to have a personality. We’re not talking Christine, here. Just personality. She had a knack for not starting the very DAY after you suggested (where she could hear) that she was getting old. We respected the power of the jinx and learned to only talk about Millie in the house with the door shut. If she didn’t like the tires I had put on her, she would (probably deliberately) kick them off. We went through a lot of tires. And a lot of miles – 200,000. She recently became slightly disinterested in first gear and sometimes, reverse on cold mornings. Some days I did a lot of begging. “Pleeeeeeaaaase, Millie, ” I’d say. A lot people would’ve gotten rid of her before now, but I haven’t had a car payment since 1999. And I was hoping to put off letting her go as long as possible. I knew Kenzie would take it pretty hard.
She carried us to the mountains and to the beach. Once, when driving through south Georgia when Kenzie was little, upon request, I climbed on Millie’s roof to reach some Spanish moss because she had never seen it or felt it before. She helped us move to North Carolina in the summer of 2003. She carried us back and forth for an hour on the days we’d go to the ice rink in Pineville. She blew her engine at 4 a.m. one morning on the way to the rink in April 2006. So, we got her a used engine, and she seemed happy again. Later that year, her AC quit working and when I went to pick her up at the shop, ready to pay, she’d managed to persuade a stranger to pay (anonymously) to get it fixed. It was a $900 bill. She knew how to work the charm.
Millie also gave me writing space. She’s where I wrote or finished many of my songs like “Less Alone,” “See Me Dance” and a new one, “Trying to Get Through to You.” I kept a small recorder in the center console. It’s where Kenzie and I sang along with all of our favorite music because back then we had the same tastes (or I at least had a greater influence): Soul Miner’s Daughter which later became the Jennifer Nettles Band, Patty Griffin, Indigo Girls, The Mollys, Mary Black, Alison Krauss and Union Station, etc. Millie’s space is also where Mackenzie threw some of her best and worst tantrums. It’s where we laughed a lot seeing another driver picking his nose at a stoplight. (Does that ever STOP being funny?) It’s where she used her first cuss word after sleeping over at a friend’s house for the first time in first grade. I heard a quiet but clear “You, bitch” from the backseat. I had to immediately pull over to avoid having a wreck! More recently, it’s where my parents’ newly adopted dog, McGee, PEED and then VOMITED in the backseat on the way to our house, where he would stay a week while my parents were in Guatemala. Good times! And some I’ll miss more than others.
So, tomorrow we go gather our things and donate Millie to Habitat for Humanity. Then, I’m set to drive an automatic regularly for the first time since 1995. And eventually, maybe Mackenzie will speak to me again. Also, I’ve gone and lost her cat today. CRAPTASTIC.