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On July 9, 2011, Melissa and I went to Des Moines, to celebrate her mom’s birthday. Our youngest daughter, Annie, who turned 16 just 9 days before, went with us. We enjoyed a good meal and conversation at the Machine Shed Restaurant. After dinner, we gave Annie a small gift bag. Inside was a key fob and a car key. Her eyes lit up and a smile shot from ear to ear. She thought we might be pranking her when we told her to go to the parking lot and find her birthday present.
She used the keyless entry and the car’s horn to find a shiny, bright red Chevy Cobalt sitting in a parking space under a shade tree. She was in disbelief. “Is this for real? Is this really mine?” We told her to get in and see if the key started it. She did and it did. It was her first car and tears of joy fell. She immediately named the car “Rosie.”
On the way home, I rode with Annie, while Melissa followed in our car. Riding in the left lane, I told Annie to get in the right lane. She turned on her signal and BAM, to the right lane she went…cutting off the car in that lane. “We’re going to have to work on your highway driving skills.” I told her.
A few weeks later, I stood in the front yard and watched Annie drive off for her first day as a junior in high school. I remember thinking, “I guess she doesn’t need us to take her to school anymore.”
It seemed like just a few weeks more, but it was a year later, when I stood in the front yard and watched Annie drive away in Rosie. This time she was headed off for her first day as a senior in high school. In that bittersweet moment, a flurry of “first days” went racing through my mind. Our little girl was growing up – and too fast. I wondered if she would still need me?
A week or so ago, Annie called me with bad news; Rosie died on the side of the road. She had taken the car to a mechanic and was still having trouble with it. Reality hit. She had owned the car for eight and a half years, putting well over one hundred thousand miles one it. It was a used car when we bought it; the time had come to replace Rosie.
Annie and Melissa did the preliminary work, looking online for a new car. They narrowed the selection down to two, both at Dakota Motors in Farmington, Minnesota. Annie had never purchased a car before and Melissa helped her through the process of getting pre-approved for a car loan. With everything in order, Annie and I would go to look at the cars together.
Driving home from Oklahoma, I stopped for the night in Missouri. The next day I would pick Annie up from the school where she teaches. Albeit treacherous, northern Missouri was beautiful. Fresh snow clung to tree branches, fence posts bushes, utility poles and even powerlines - anything it could stick to, including the road. A grey sky with limited visibility made it feel colder than it really was. The roads were icy.
Traffic was moving about 50 m.p.h. on the interstate. Every now and then a car would go flying by in the unplowed left lane; we would usually see them in a ditch further up the road. I called Annie to let her know I would be about thirty minutes late, due to the weather.
If you drive by any elementary, junior high, or high school, around 8 a.m., or 3 p.m., in any town USA, you’ll run into heavy traffic. Parents will be lined up on the side of the street to drop off or waiting to pick up their kids. I arrived at 12:30, so there were no lines. I parked in a space and waited for Annie to come out. I kept thinking, “It’s been years since I picked this kid up from school.” And now, I am picking her up again, but this time she is a teacher.
June was excited. Although she has never been to this school, she seemed to know Annie was coming. A person walked out the door, bundled up so tight I couldn’t even see their face. Their arms were weighted down with bags, a water bottle, books and such; but I recognized her walk. Sitting in the passenger seat, June put her paws on the dashboard, pressing her wet nose to the windshield. Her whole body wiggled with excitement. Annie opened the door and June jumped out to greet her.
After putting her bags in the back, Annie got in the front seat. She settled in, pushed back her hood, took off her scarf and stocking cap and loosened her coat. I could finally see her face. “Hi.” As I backed out of the parking space, she said, “It’s been a long time since I waited at school for you to pick me up.” That comment warmed my heart.
At the dealership, I rode along as Annie drove both cars. We asked a lot of questions, looked over both vehicles carefully and checked their history. I had her look in the manual to see when routine maintenance expenses would be coming. This was a first-time buying experience for her and I needed to let her do the work. I was just there to help. We asked the dealer if he could do any better on the price. Either car would have been fine, but I thought one was a little better than the other. She weighed the benefits of each out loud, then asked “Which one should I go with?”
“That’s up to you, kid. I bought your first car. This time you’re writing the check, so you need to make that decision.” She thought hard and seemed a bit confused. It would have been easier if I told her which one to go with, but I wasn’t going to do that. As she pondered her choices, I reminded her, “You do have a third option. You can go with the 2015, the 2016, or you can wait. You don’t have to buy a car tonight.”
But she had looked hard, done the research and was ready to make a purchase. She looked at the dealer on the other side of the desk. “I’m going to go with the 2016.” Bart was in and out of the room several times completing the paperwork and making copies. I asked Annie if she was excited or nervous. “Both.” She said, “I’m excited about getting the car, but nervous about having car payments.” I laughed, knowing exactly how she felt. She was thrilled, but I also know that sinking feeling of uncertainty, deep in your stomach that comes whenever you’re about to make a big purchase.
“That nervous feeling in your gut goes away after you’ve made two or three payments.” She wrinkled her face. I told her, “For what it’s worth, you’re buying the car I would have picked.” That seemed to put her a little more at ease. Still, she was nervous writing the check – it was clearly the biggest check she’d ever written in her life. I was proud of her.
As she got in the car, I heard her refer to the car as Sally. I followed her out of the parking lot. Our youngest daughter just made her first car purchase. I climbed into my van, watching Annie in her new ride, and said, “Goodbye, Rosie – Hello Sally.”
As I followed, watching her drive away from the parking lot, I was once again reminded – my little girl is grown up. Her tail lights became more distant down the road. I asked myself, “I wonder if she’ll still need me?”