The demise of my Dart should not have happened quite the way it did. After 15 years of trouble-free service with "original everything," the Dart should have been born aloft by legions of mechanized Valkyries to that big junkyard in the sky, there to repose in dry, rust-free immortality.
The reality was far different. On a hot summer morning my little brown Dart, minted in 1973 and a veteran of 150,000 miles, sat hunkered down at the curb outside a grease-stained, rust-ridden little shack in westside Salt Lake. She looked like a genteel little old lady, gathering her tattered skirts about her in one last show of dignity."I don't know, I just can't give you more than $45," said a grease-stained young giant, bouncing the shocks and rolling the windows. "If the windshield was in a little better shape. . . ."
I gritted my teeth, nodded my head, and accepted the token yellow check. After all, the Board of Health had served notice that I must get her out of the alley, and nobody had responded seriously to my hopeful ad - "1973 Dart, needs tuneup, runs."
As I drove away I stole one last, long, guilty look at the Dart - a wren of a car whose chrome strips had long since disappeared, whose underpinnings had rusted, and whose wistful green-and-yellow license holder kept on proclaiming, "Don't follow me, I'm lost." Probably, I consoled myself, she would face demolition with the same stoicism she had exhibited in every other crisis.
The Dart never had any cutesy nickname, she was always just the Dart. She was the first car I ever bought entirely on my own after my husband died, and I had missed that reassuring masculine presence to guide the final decision.
Wanting to upgrade my swinging image a bit, I had gone shopping for a Plymouth Duster, but they were few and far between that August Saturday. "Would you consider a Dart?" said the hopeful salesman at the last Dodge and Plymouth agency.
I would and I did, though I found its lines a little dowdy, the brown exterior with black interior definitely not jivey, and $4,000! That surely was a lot in 1973, even on an end-of-season special. I said I would think about it over the weekend.
Of course, all the kids jumped at a new car to replace the old blue Pontiac station wagon with the undependable transmission. The wagon was long and rode luxuriously, but then there were the scrapes down each side, which my daughter had put there on successive afternoons one fateful week. Indeed, a new car was inevitable. But $4,000!
Eventually everyone agreed that the Dart looked quite smart and I should pamper myself a little, I was altogether too stingy, and besides we deserved some class for our vacation. With some trepidation, I signed the contract and began payments.
Our first outing was to West Virginia, 500 miles from our Connecticut home, to our beloved Green Valley Farm, tucked among Shenandoah foothills on the Lost River. The sky was not cloudy all day (unlike New England when you try to have some fun), the food home cooked, and the horses tame and compliant. The Dart traveled well, and continued to ride well thereafter.
And a work horse car it was, bearing its part in school and church car pools, carting all and sundry to lessons, doctor's appointments, grocery shopping, picnics and trips to the shore, and a thousand other errands. Its fail-proof electronic ignition was gratefully acknowledged on many a blustery winter night, when a late review kept me at the newspaper, in a rather unsavory part of town, long after midnight.
The time came when the Dart didn't start quite so dependably. Not that it didn't turn over, it just didn't catch on. After a few towing service visits, I watched what the mechanic did and thought, "I can do that."
The trouble lay in the sticky automatic choke. You just raised the hood, took off the distributor cover, and had someone with a screwdriver or pen depress the choke while you started the car. No more $10 tow-truck bills.
The Dart withstood the onslaughts of a teenage boy driver, from impatient learning process to quiet cussing that this stuffy little car wasn't really "with it" for his kind of friends. Frustration finally led to his buying an old Ford Mustang, which looked great but soon died. It was back to the Dart.
One golden week in August, the Dart carried a few of us on a farewell tour of New England - out to Cape Cod to see the cottages where we had stayed in bygone summers, and to Provincetown to walk the giant sand dune one more time; up the Maine coast, zig-zagging out to Boothbay Harbor, Pemaquid Light and Kennebunkport, to Ogunquit and beautiful Bar Harbor with its stunning Acadia National Park. One beautiful moonlit night, the Dart purred down Vermont's Green Mountains while we played "A, My Name is Alice" and "My Minister's Cat."
One November day in 1975, the Dart, her trunk and rear seat loaded to the gills, turned her back on her native New England and headed West. Now if ever there was a New England type of car, the Dart was it; yet I never knew her to complain about coming to the desert.
In Utah the Dart picked her way meekly among Western-macho suburban wagons, Jeeps and Subaru four-wheel drives with fancy roll bars, and Ford trucks with bodies jacked four feet off the ground, never giving offense. She survived two fender benders in one winter, both on the same right front fender. She chugged uncomplaining up to 18th Avenue twice a week, doing her part in a ballet carpool, and only requiring a few sets of new brake linings.
When the youngest child became drill master for the pep club, with 7 a.m. practices daily, it became apparent that we must become a two-car family. The Dart was replaced in the garage by a sassy little interloper - a red Nissan sedan with front wheel drive and air conditioning - but she only hunched down uncomplainingly at the curb out front, and carried child No. 4 unfailingly on her rounds, to high school and college.
Great was that child's ungrateful joy when a Kermit-green Toyota joined the family fleet. A three-car family? It was a distinction that I never sought, thrust upon me by one summer's unusual demands for wheels. And as long as the Dart behaved herself she got licensed and insured, and farmed out to give a married daughter with cabin fever a little more freedom of movement.
But the tires got thinner, the steering wheel spun loosely, the motor needed attention, the radiator leaked marginally, the insurance rates jumped. Come January, we did not re-register the Dart.
If I could, I would have shrunk that car and worn it as a charm around my neck, for it contained a great investment of self and family. But like all good things, it came to an end. Resquiescat in pace, brown Dart. There will never again be another quite like you.