Old Yeller is a classic story about a boy and his dog. Old Yeller is a mongrel of a dog that, though originally uninvited, joins the poor Coates family and earns their love. In the end, Travis, the eldest Coates boy, deals with life’s painful lessons on becoming a man.
My story does not involve a dog, but a car. Old Redder was a fire engine red, 1991 Mitsubishi Galant VR4.
I first laid eyes on Old Redder in a black and white picture posted in an AutoTrader magazine. At the time I was working at an auto shop where we received free copies of the weekly classified. Business was slow, so I sat down and idly flipped through its pages. Surprisingly, the poor picture caught my attention and drew me in. The headline read: Mitsubishi VR4 280 HS. This was something very rare indeed. The description intrigued me further: All-wheel drive, ’97 engine, 5-speed transmission, fully loaded, 280 horsepower.
I couldn’t help myself. I quickly dog-eared the page and stashed the magazine in my lunch pail. There was no logical reason for doing this, but like Old Yeller, this car’s charm immediately spoke to me and she refused to be sent away.
My wife and I already had a good car. I knew there was no convincing her that we needed two cars with our minimal salaries. So I kept my love for Old Redder a secret. As fate would have it though, our current car would soon suffer an unfortunate accident, putting us in need of another good car. I pleaded with my wife to let me adopt Old Redder. Like mother Coates, she eventually relented.
Immediately, I called the owner and set up a test drive. I only took her around the block once and returned giddy. Having almost 300hp at my every whim was intoxicating. It wasn’t love at first sight; it was lust. That fiercely burning flame of lust would eventually fade, leaving the steady coals of love in their place.
Old Redder’s owner realized that I needed the car more than him and after paying him enough for many home cooked meals, he let me take her home that day.
Her interior wasn’t anything to write home about either. Even though she was a four-door sedan, her back seats didn’t offer all that much room. And because the newer engine didn’t leave any room in the engine bay for the battery, it was located in the trunk, considerably limiting space and practicality.
Never needing much encouragement to stretch her legs and run, her personality was a little maniacal. Several times all I could do was hold on. Once, giving Old Redder a spirited run, we plunged down an on-ramp way too fast. Fighting back panic, I threw caution to the wind and turned the wheel hard. With barely a complaint, Old Redder dug in and obliged my request. She earned her keep that day.
However, there were also a couple of occasions during our little jaunts that the police took exception. But clearly they could sense Old Redder’s charm, and after seeing my sheepish grin they didn’t have the heart to give me a ticket. Old Redder did have a magical quality about her.
During our time together we spent many a mile together and I can’t remember a single bad one.
However, eventually Old Redder started to show signs of her age. She began to lose a step and soon developed a limp.
First it was her brakes. She blew a hole in one of her lines. After all we had been through I wasn’t going to give up on her that easily. After a few hours and several trips to the local auto parts store, she was as good as new. Or so I told myself. I pretended to not see the rust covering the chassis visible from underneath.
One morning she wouldn’t start. Another couple of hours, some bloody knuckles, and a few more trips to the auto parts store got her up and running again. I was putting myself into this car now, desperately trying to give back a little bit of what she had given me.
But, fixing her became increasingly difficult. The electronics died and the whole wiring harness had to be replaced. Then, the exhaust rotted through requiring most of the system to be replaced. Unfortunately, these repairs were beyond my abilities.
On top of that, I could not ignore the “rabies” anymore. Rust was eating Old Redder from the inside out. Every time she was lifted, her frame would give a little more. With breakdowns starting to become more serious and frequent, she was starting to cost us too much money. For the financial health of my family, I had to make the decision to put her down.
It was a bitter day. Of course it was raining. And I was having second thoughts. But, to confirm my decision, Old Redder’s alternator died that morning. In the heat of the moment, I felt resentment towards Old Redder. Why was she doing this? Why was this happening? Looking back on that day now though, maybe that was her way of letting me know I was doing the right thing; her crazy way of saying, “good-bye.”
I went home, comforted by a younger, capable new car, but I felt hollow.
The new car is a good car, a 2005 Subaru Impreza Wagon. I named her Young Silver. She has a lot of qualities Old Redder had, and some she didn’t. She is a practical car, and much more economical, comfortable, and dependable. I like her, I really do, but for some inexplicable reason, I don’t love her.
Maybe it’s because of what she is; a practical, reasonable car. Sure, I can still have fun with Young Silver, but she doesn’t have that little bit of lunacy that I found so endearing with Old Redder.
I miss Old Redder. I want her back. But, as Travis Coates learnt, that’s not how life works. I guess I too need to take that painful step into manhood.