My dad was just a boy when his mother was left to raise five children on her own. As the oldest boy in the household, he took his position to heart, grew up fast and rose to the challenge of supporting and protecting his family. He was too young to have a real job, so he held down several paper routes. And if his siblings’ stories can be believed, at the end of a long day of school and delivering papers, he would stand guard at the bottom of the hill on which they lived, wielding a baseball bat to fend off his mother’s unwanted suitors.
When I became a single mom, these instincts returned in my father and he jumped in to support me when I needed it. His help came in many forms, but one had wheels: I needed to get around with my boys and for a space in time, could not afford a vehicle of my own. My dad did his due diligence. He painstakingly researched what car he thought was right for me and the boys, and a brand new Dodge Journey came up the winner. He bought it for himself, but let me borrow it until I was back on my feet and rolling on wheels of my own.
The irony of driving a Journey on my “journey” was not lost on me for long. I was at the Peddler one day when a kind-hearted man who knew more about my situation than I realized asked me delicately, “Anita, how is your journey?”
“My Dodge Journey?” I asked perplexedly, raising one eyebrow.
“No,” he corrected with a grand gesture of his arms, “Your journey …”
We drove that Journey everywhere – from fishing to beach going, soccer playing and road tripping – until eventually, I was ready to return it to my dad and purchase something of my own. I broke it to Dad one night after dinner at my place.
He took a deep breath. “Anita,” he said, “I want you to buy out the Journey. It’s the perfect car for you and the boys.” I appreciated, in that moment, how cathartic it might have been for my Dad to be there for me in my single motherhood – as he had been for his own mother, but this time, with a grown man’s resources and sagacity. But I was adamant about wanting to pick something for myself and I told him that gently. I thought I saw his lower lip quiver: I had hurt his feelings. “But it’s your journey,” he insisted. I shook my head but did not say the words that came to mind: That’s not my journey, Dad, that’s your own.
Exactly what my personal journey looked like, represented by an automobile, I did not know. I had never picked out my own car before. “Well, what are you going to get?” demanded my father petulantly.
I knew I had to say something so different from a Dodge Journey that it would instantly justify my independence. I thought fast. The only car that had ever remotely captured my interest had been a dark Ford Mustang that my landlord had driven briefly. “I don’t know,” I shrugged nonchalantly, “Maybe I’ll get a Mustang.”
That had the desired effect. Dad’s pout was gone, replaced by a dropped jaw and a look of boyish incredulity. “A Mustang?” he repeated. “You’d get a Mustang?” Could it be that on the road of life, his daughter was a wild horse?
I wasn’t really serious, but at least I had uplifted the conversation. In the days that followed, I dutifully researched vehicles and narrowed down the selection of obligatory crossovers and SUVs to one that seemed right for me: a gently-used crossover with low miles, still under warranty. It met every criterion on my wish list. I felt confident in the rationality of my choice and arranged a test drive. But on the way to the dealership, I found myself following a slick Mustang down the 401 and couldn’t stop staring at it. I test drove the crossover. It handled alright. But when I headed back to the Journey in the parking lot, another customer had parked their Mustang right beside me. Darn, that Mustang looked fine. All the way back to Millbrook, I couldn’t get Mustangs off my mind. Finally, as I drove down a hill towards the Village, where for years, lazy horses had grazed placidly in their pasture beside the road, those same horses saw my car and suddenly broke into a gallop, every one of them racing me along the fence line until the end of their field. Alright, this was getting ridiculous. What the heck was going on?
At home, I marched inside the house, looked up the closest Ford dealership and called it immediately. “I’d like to test drive a Mustang,” I announced. “Your most economical one, please.”
“We don’t have any left,” said the man on the phone. “This year’s are gone and next year’s won’t be here for months. Let me check the provincial database.” The phone went quiet as he checked his computer. “Nothing,” he said finally. “Everybody’s sold out.”
I felt deflated. Why was I being teased by Mustangs if there wasn’t even one available? Then I realized that the man on the phone had only been considering new Mustangs. I raced to my computer, Googled, “Used Mustang,” and there it was: a beautiful two-year-old used Mustang, dark greyish green, barely driven and still under warranty. Every box on my wish list was checked, and then some. It had just arrived on a car lot only a few blocks from where I had test driven the crossover. I contacted the dealer and within twenty-four hours it was mine.
I took my dad with me to pick up the Mustang. He stared with a bemused smile at the horses of my apocalypse: all 325 of them. “Well,” he quipped, “it seems like a sensible family car.” But he was not being critical. He was quoting the words that he had said to my mother to justify his buying a zippy Plymouth Laser for us back in the nineties. We were more alike than he had known.
A Mustang is the perfect car, actually, if your family is a mom with a heavy foot and two adventure-loving boys. It even has a surprising amount of room in the trunk, more than enough for fishing rods, soccer balls, backpacks and a briefcase. It has proven to be a smooth, exhilarating ride for all of our adventures, which include regular trips with my dad to visit his mother, who recently celebrated her 99th birthday. Cruising down the Trans-Canada Highway with Dad and my boys towards Grandma’s birthday celebration, I felt proud of my journey as a knowing songstress summed it up over the radio: “Change in your heart … you know who you are. You’ve put the horse before the cart.”
By Anita Odessa