Years and Years


Old car driving down the road

Photo © John Shepherd/iStockPhoto

by Donna Sinclair

I knew trouble was coming when we pulled away from the curb after a lovely visit with friends in Ottawa, five hours by highway from our home in North Bay, Ont. The car was noisy. Very noisy, even for what we generously call our “student car” or (in honour of our daughter who lives on a B.C. island) our “island car.”

It sounded like …mmm…a troll was inside the motor throwing tin cans around. Or maybe like a protest, a casserole as they call it these days in Montreal, a fierce proclamation to the world of the Sinclair’s refusal, absolument, to change their car more than once each decade or so.

This car is 13 years old.

We stopped in Renfrew to check out the weird odour coming from the front of the car. “The right side,” I explained to Jim, from my position on my hands and knees, head to the ground, peering up above the right front tire. “Something’s kind of – stopping and then starting, ” I said. “Something that maybe should just be – turning.”

“Hmm,” said Jim knowledgeably. “Hmm.”

It was Sunday. Apparently all mechanics go to the cottage on Sunday, for there were none in Renfrew. We debated whether to (a) take a motel room in the hope that all those mechanics would return early Monday, or (b) take a chance on making it to North Bay. Three more hours of driving. We hoped.

“We have a phone,” I offered, surreptitiously checking to see if my (old) flip-open cell had battery power. If we were stranded on some deserted stretch of highway midway between Deep River and Mattawa, presumably we could call for a tow; or at the very least, send our last best loving wishes to our children.

Oh yes. Our children. The ones who had made us promise that we would never never take our student/island car out on the highway. The grownup children who, we presume, consult with one another from time to time on the best way to persuade the old folks to give up that god-awful vehicle. They were not going to be happy.

We decided to make a break for North Bay and never tell them. After awhile, Jim figured out that the air conditioner connected to something in the region of my nose-to-the-ground investigation. He turned it off. Calm returned, sort of. The burning smell dissipated.

We rolled into our own driveway late that night and had the car fixed over the next week for I-don’t-want-anyone-to-know-how-many dollars. Which means we can’t get rid of it for another two years because we have just invested mightily in its continued reliability. Kind of like a healthy Canadian costing Medicare almost nothing during a long and happy life, only to cost it many thousands in the last frail year of existence.

Why, you may wonder, do we do this? I don’t know. Perhaps it is because we are both utterly uninterested in cars. Why not buy $20,000 worth of books, or travel, or perennials, or manure instead? In any case, we walk almost everywhere in our small city, shouldering our backpacks and giving rise, I am convinced, to much comment about elderly eccentricity. The car is mostly used to haul quad mix or the canoe. Not at the same time, naturally.

Furthermore, we like old things. Those same offspring accuse my husband of needing to put any new clothes gifted to him outside in order to drive over them until they look sufficiently used. (Our sons get around this by saving their hand-me-downs for him, and our daughter gets him shirts at second-hand stores.)

I am grateful for this. Because he likes his old wife, too. This is despite (or perhaps because of) the day our grandson, Eli, who (then aged four) grasped my face in his hands and gazed lovingly into my eyes. “Nana,” he said, “how long is it from kid to wrinkly?”

A long time, I say to myself gratefully. A long time of planting tomatoes instead of polishing the car; a long time of ambling to the beach instead of driving to the mall; a long time of putting up a tent in the backyard for our grandson.

“Baba,” Eli (then aged five) said contentedly to Jim one lazy afternoon, as I passed cookies through the tent flap to fortify their sojourn, “we’ve been camping in this place for years and years.”

Years and years. Spouse, car, tent, grandchild. What riches. Hallelujah.

A journalist for more than 30 years, Donna Sinclair is an award-winning writer who has traveled widely in Canada, Africa, Central America, Britain, and Eastern Europe. Her most recent book is The Long View: An Elderwoman’s Book of Wisdom. She is also the author of The Spirituality of Bread, The Spirituality of Gardening, A Woman’s Book of Days, A Woman’s Book of Days 2, and numerous other titles. Donna lives with her husband Jim in North Bay, Ontario.

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Categories: Aging, Donna Sinclair, Spiritual Growth

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