Farewell to an Old Friend

Despite the scrapes and high mileage, the Villager was a beloved car.

An old, much-loved warrior has died. Literally.

Our 1999 Mercury Villager no longer stands watch outside our house, ready, willing, and able to take us places. After 13 years of service and about 130,000 miles, Old Red has retired to greener pastures somewhere else.

Until I got my Honda Pilot, the Villager was my favorite car. It was more than a vehicle—it’s a symbol of my sons’ childhoods. The minivan was what they grew up with, transporting them all over the Houston area, as well as to Hebrew and Sunday schools, sports practices and games, and to friends’ houses. Plus we’ll never forget the long trips we took in it, ones to Carlsbad Caverns, Chicago, and DisneyWorld.

The kid manages a wan smile before driving off to school last semester.

Much to their dismay, both boys eventually drove the Villager to high school—apparently Mom’s hand-me-down minivan wasn’t cool enough for the parking lot, especially one like ours with plenty of newer cars. My younger son finally dubbed it the “Swagwagon,” a tongue-and-cheek reference to its lameness. But, hey, it was long paid for and extremely cheap to insure, which comes in handy with teenaged boys.

After we bought the 2006 Toyota Highlander for my older son to drive and the 2010 Ford Fusion for Mr. Swag himself, the Mister and I decided it was time to find the minivan a new home. Even though we wouldn’t get much money for it, we settled on selling it to Texas Direct Auto, which is where we bought the Highlander.

Hoping to eke out a few shekels more, I drove the Swagwagon to Mister Car Wash about 10 miles from our house. Not that clean and shiny would mask all the scratches, of course, but I figured it couldn’t hurt. All went well until I tried to start the Villager for the ride back home.

Oh oh! The engine wouldn’t turn over. One of the workers jumped the battery, and the minivan started once more. Whew, dodged a bullet, I thought.

Why in the world would I tempt the Evil Eye?!?

As I drove home, the Villager started to shake violently. The boys had complained a few times about this happening, but I figured they were exaggerating. Nope! This was the real deal . . . would the Swagwagon and I meet our untimely demises in a fiery explosion on the streets of sweet Sugar Land?

This is NOT a good spot for a dead car.

Well, one of us did die; fortunately, it wasn’t me. Even though that nagging voice of sanity in the back of my head said, “Just pull off in a parking lot and have the kid pick you up in the Fusion,” the idiot part of my brain thought, “It’s not too far; we can make it!”

Not only didn’t we make it, but the minivan sputtered to a grinding halt in one of the worst-possible places: One of the two early left-turn lanes in front of Hwy. 59’s feeder road on a very busy street. Nightmare time!

The car’s flashers really were on.

I quickly opened the windows, turned on the Villager’s flashers, and called AAA Texas. Then I waited in the 93-degree heat for a tow truck, as I waved cars that foolishly came up behind me to go into the next lane. One almost smashed into me, which is why I kept my seatbelt on the entire time.

A blessing behind me

When AAA Texas later told me they couldn’t rescue me for at least an hour, I was almost glad a city motorcycle police officer came up behind me (and confirmed that the flashers were indeed working). I say “almost,” because the Villager’s inspection and license plate stickers had expired; I didn’t want to get a ticket. But the cop thankfully ignored the infraction and called a wrecker, which had me moved off to a parking lot within a few minutes.

The tow truck driver, who works on cars, thought the fuel pump was the culprit with the dead minivan. There was no way we were going to put one more dime into our aging vehicle, so I called Purple Heart to make a donation. They towed it off into the sunset, and that was the end of our Villager saga.

When I think back on Old Red, I’m going to try my best to remember the good times we had and not the horrible experience at the end. Right now, though, I think a few years will need to go by first.

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