It all happened so fast. One minute I was driving to Banff to visit family, the next I’m selling my car for parts. I’m still in shock.
I loved that car. It was a 2003 Honda Civic Sport, bright red with a spoiler and it was initially my mother’s car. Not the kind of car a woman in her seventies would drive, you might think. But mom liked vehicles with ‘pick up’ as she would say. Which is why two of her cars were Camaro Z28s, one bright yellow with a flame on the hood. I feel safe behind that wheel, she would say. Truth be told, you could barely see her little head poking up over that wheel!
That car carried me all over North America countless times. Without it, I could not have maintained two long-distance relationships. One of them involved commuting back and forth between Michigan and Ontario for nine years. The other was a brief but beautiful conversation begun in Kelowna and ending in a summer of confidences and laughter shar
ed at his sun-gleaming kitchen table in Oregon. Both meant suffering the harassments of border guards questioning the nature of my relationships and forays, one even dumping my mother’s ashes out of the small urn in my glove compartment. I always travel with my mother, I told him. He looked as if that alone were cause for sending me back to Canada. Another time I was asked why I wasn’t married yet. “Who are you, my mother?!” I wanted to snap back. But not even my mom would have asked such an irrelevant question.
I’ve moved all over the continent, looking for love, or a new home, or just a place to shake me out of old habits. When I found myself with some free time or feeling hemmed in, timid, leading a less than esteemed life, I’d jump in Rosie II and head to a village or a lake or the nearest park. When I told a friend this she quipped: “So, your car was your enabler. Think of how many messes you wouldn’t have had to extricate yourself from if you didn’t have a car! Maybe you’re just supposed to stay still for a while!”
“Fair assessment. But you can’t go long without a vehicle in Val Marie. Everyone has at least three around here, and that’s not counting farm vehicles!”
And although my wanderings have not all been well-advised, Rosie II made it possible for me to drive through storms from Michigan to Kelowna for my first Christmas without my mom. It was a last minute decision and my beau and I did it in three days. On the way back we made detours to see Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse. We stayed an extra day in Rapid City, huddled beneath the blankets of our motel bed, waiting for the wind to stop howling. And later when we got back on the road, somewhere in Wisconsin, in the middle of the morning, NPR radio played three Lhasa de Sela songs in a row. I knew it could only mean one thing: the brilliant young singer from Montreal had died. The experience inspired me to make a documentary about her called “She Moves Between Worlds,” which won an award. That kind of chain of events doesn’t happen on a bus ride.
I’ve taken day trips to buy a guitar, a lamp, even a hot dog on a beach in Rosie II. I’ve bought boxes of books at library sales, two quilts at a craft fair and boxes of fruit for canning. For six years, living in limbo, between two countries and two jobs as a singer and a journalist, determined to keep my relationship alive, Rosie was constant, dependable, reliable, even, often, my bed. When I finally decided to stay put in Val Marie, I filled Rosie to the headrests with all my books and clothes and blankets and journals and hauled my little life from BC to Saskatchewan. She never complained.
So to leave her in Vick’s dusty parking lot while my friend Page drove me away from the scene of her abandonment, silent in her indignity, hood still warm, was just too much to contain, and I began to cry. She was loaded with memories, after all. She was my mom’s car and saying goodbye to her brought me smack up against another moment where, yet again, I had to ‘let go.’ Which usually means: it’s gone anyway, so accept it’s gone. A few miles out of Swift Current, headed back home instead of to Banff, it occurs to both of us that I should have taken the tires and the brand new battery. But then, I barely had the wherewithal to pull the owl feather and my grandmother’s rosary from the rear view mirror.
Of course, Rosie was not the first. Rosie I was a 1986 Chevy Cavalier, which sounds like something you win in a game show. In my case, it was another inheritance from my mom. My dad sold cars and it was important that he and my mother drove new cars, so every few years she got the latest model and I, for some reason, which must piss my siblings off to no end, got the old model. When I moved from Vancouver to Quebec City in 1995 my Wicca friend Caroline gave me a sprig of rosemary to hang from my rear view mirror. “Rosemary is the herb of protection,” she explained. “Give it a little rub and deeply inhale the scent to relax yourself when you get anxious.” At that moment I decided to dub my car Rosemary, Rosie for short.
Interestingly enough Rosie I was the first intimation that one day, nearly twenty years later, I’d be living in Saskatchewan. She yanked me off the TransCan in Gull Lake, stuttering and shuddering into a garage lot. The mechanic took one look at the handmade box with a winking rising sun painted on the front, weighing down the roof rack and asked: “You from Montreal?”
“No,” I said, “but I’m headed that way.” After an hour he concluded: It’s either your fuel filter or your fuel pump. If it’s the filter you’re good to go. If it’s your pump you’ll find out soon enough.
Approaching Herbert, SK, Rosie started jerking again. I made it into the Lone Eagle Garage and gas station just in time. They told me I’d have to talk to Dezi, the mechanic.
“Ok. Where is he?”
“Having lunch at the café.”
Walking into the Lone Eagle Café, clinking beads and amulets, I was met with a room full of tractor caps and sunburned faces. “Anyone here named Dezi?” I yelled. All fingers pointed to a young man eating a plate of fries, all eyes remained on me.
Dezi told me, after he finished his fries and we walked back to the garage, that it’s the pump, alright. They’ll have to order a new one in Swift Current. It’ll be here in the morning; you can get a room at the motel.
Laying in bed in the Lone Eagle Motel, the door open to let the breeze and the whistle of the train fill the room, I called my mom.
“Oooh. I can hear the train, I miss that. And watching it go on forever into the sky,” she giggled. And then, after a while, she sighed. “You know, Gull Lake is where we had the funeral for Uncle George.”
My uncle, her brother, was a country priest, born in Val Marie, educated in Belgium, I believe he thought his vocation would get him off the farm, but instead he was sent back to service the parishes surrounding his birthplace. In his isolation and loneliness, he took his life in Vanguard.
That night, after mom and I talked a bit more, I pulled the Gideon out of the bedside drawer and let the pages fall open. It landed on Revelation 12:14: “And to the woman were given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness, into her place, where she is nourished for a time.” I walked outside and plopped down in the long grass at the edge of a graveyard of rusted old trucks. I looked at the neighbouring farms: more trucks, at least a couple per home. You can’t live without one around here So maybe it’s only right to mourn a lost car, like a lost horse, its leg broken after falling in a badger hole or infected from a cut. I’ve always called Rosie my trusty steed. I’ve patted her dashboard after a sudden tussle with black ice in the dark of early morning, or a deep puddle at high speed on an interstate surrounded by big trucks.
It turns out, 20 years ago, Rosie I pulled me into Herbert and made me wait for a part to be delivered from Swift Current. Rosie II, 20 years later, ended her days in Swift Current, to be dismantled for parts, for some other hapless wanderer, who hopefully gets waylaid long enough to appreciate the terrible beauty of open spaces and infinite possibilities and the bittersweet endings of real life.
Madonna was a CBC writer-broadcaster for a couple decades and won awards for music documentaries. She lives in Val Marie, working on a book and continues singing and songwriting. For comments you can reach Madonna at email@example.com