By the end of this year, the Volkswagen Beetle will be a remnant of the past.
For me, it already is.
Yeah, I know, it’s just a car. But it’s a car that defines a big part of my childhood.
Some of my earliest memories are of my mom driving my brother and me around in her Volkswagen Beetle, which (if my memory is correct) also happened to be her very first car. It was white and resembled Herbie the Love Bug of Disney fame, which — perhaps not coincidentally — was one of my brother’s favorite movies.
One night, our Volkswagen was stolen from right in front of our Northeast Philadelphia home. This was around 1975. Or maybe 1974. I was only about five or six years old, yet I remember standing on the walkway of our house in a state of shock that a stranger could steal something of yours. (I was a bit of a sheltered child.) The theft made a significant impression on me. Our Volkswagen was never recovered.
We bought another Volkswagen, a bright yellow Beetle that we picked up on a frigid winter’s night. That may have been a foreshadowing of things to come because I recall the heat always being a bit problematic in that car. Either that or my parents didn’t want to waste it by putting it on, or the car itself was more sluggish when the heat was on. During Philadelphia’s cold winters (of which there were many back in the day, including a blizzard in 1978) my brother and I would huddle underneath afghans in the backseat trying to stay warm. Or maybe I’m misremembering and it was the white VW that had the heating issue. Whatever. The point is, as adults now, my brother and I are not very close — something which saddens me more than I like to admit — so having that memory, regardless of which Beetle it was, makes me nostalgic for the way we were.
We had much better luck with the yellow Volkswagen; it remained in our family for the next 10 years. By that time I was driving, but despite many efforts from well-meaning folks determined to teach me how to drive a stick shift (including an uncle who required each of his three children to have this skill in case of an emergency, a mindset I can appreciate much better now as a parent myself) I was never able to master the knack of maneuvering a manual transmission.
We sold our yellow Beetle to a family acquaintance who lived up the street. I saw him and his wife at my 30th high school reunion and — you guessed it, part of our conversation was reminiscing about the yellow VW. Some of their first dates were in that car, his wife said. It makes me happy to think that our beloved VW holds a fond place in their family’s memories, too.
I think things like the Volkswagen Beetle being discontinued strikes me with more emotion than most people because in my everyday life at 50 years old, the connections with my family of origin seem ever more tenuous, at best. I currently live nearly six hours away from my hometown. Our family’s house hasn’t been ours since 1988. My father passed away when I was a teenager, followed by a succession of other relatives. My cousins and I know each other only through Facebook. I’ve never met most of their kids.
Like the Volkswagen Beetle, we’re all heading to a distant — or close — point somewhere down life’s highway. We all face the inevitable fate of being discontinued. The end of the road is upon us.
Until then, all we can do is try and make the best of the ride.
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