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Mourning my loyal Loser Cruiser Add to ...

What do you say about a 10-year-old minivan that died? That she loved stinky sports equipment and snowy days and trips to the grocery store and us?

We met in March of 1999. I was never one of those women who thought a minivan would ruin my image. The bad 1980s maternity clothes had already done that. I believed there would be a time for glamour later on in life. Ah, the innocence of youth.

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My best friend had a green minivan so I chose a dark cranberry cruiser to be my ride, a Dodge Grand Caravan. It was like driving around in a big purple closet. Forgot your sweater? A soccer ball? A show-and-tell item? A can opener? We probably had what you needed in that cavernous black hole behind the third row. There was even enough dropped cereal and other snacks littering the floor that if we were to drive off the road by accident or be stuck in a snowstorm, we would have sustenance for days. And probably even a juice box.

She was my shiny drive from sports practice to pool to school to work to sports practice to pool to school to work. At about 15,000 kilometres she decided it would be boring just to meander easily down the centre of the road; it was much more fun to always pull confidently to the right. She defied mechanics and warranty experts and until the day she died my hands were never at the standard 10 and 2 - they were more like 12 and 6 to compensate.

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She played good tunes and was sufficiently suburban gangsta when blaring bass to satisfy and amuse us, other motorists, pedestrians and the odd cyclist. We discovered Eminem and Blink-182 and Third Eye Blind with her. Although discovered is probably the wrong word. The kids had listened enough without me that they knew when to turn down the sound so the expletives wouldn't cause me to exclaim, "Excuse me!" and turn it off.

She patiently allowed junior drivers to practise on her, to drive her to high school, to carry snowboards and baseballs and hockey nets and beer. She didn't even mind her name: The Loser Cruiser.

One time the kids decided they wanted to snowboard. It was July. They took her seats out and drove to the local arena, where they shovelled piles of snow scraped from the ice into plastic garbage cans. I bet she loved this since, being four-wheel drive, winter was her thing. They backed her up the hill in the park, opened her doors and cranked the tunes. A thick but narrow layer of snow on that green grass provided a short, exhilarating ride. A police car cruised by. The officer rolled down his window, watched the activity for a few minutes, then said, "I don't even want to know," as he slowly pulled away.

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Like many mothers, I was the one responsible for her maintenance and oil changes. Last summer, while sitting at the garage, I noticed a crowd of mechanics had gathered under her hood and were pulling out cakes of dirt and broken sticks. They were all laughing and surreptitiously glancing my way. One guy finally leaned into my window and said, "Ma'am, do you do a lot of off-roading?"

Were they laughing because I looked like the type to take a minivan into the wild or because I didn't? Were they making fun of my loyal ride? The explanation I later got from my kids involved a purported mud fight after a rafting trip with friends, but the damage to my reputation and hers had already been done. We decided never to visit that garage again.

She spent her last winter in Victoria, as many elderly Canadians do, with my son who was living there for the year. She barely survived the drive home to Calgary. By now her front bumper was sagging and cracked, and a dangling piece had been sawed off. She had lost two seats. She had a large dent in her right side acquired when a frustrated teenager decided that parking in a spot for small cars was a gamble worth taking since he was late for an appointment.

She had lost her pep, her transmission and her treads had been worn down. We decided to donate her so her parts could be used to help other vans live longer and healthier lives.

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My oldest son felt his heart tug as he left her at the wrecking yard. He had so many memories of fun and adventure that she had been a part of, although I am begging never to know most of those stories.

My other son called me recently from university because he had joyfully discovered her life is immortalized in the Google Maps Street View of our house. She stands there purple and proud, and in her excitement at being photographed is undoubtedly dribbling oil.

She wasn't pretty in her older years. I often slid down in the seat when behind the wheel so I wouldn't be recognized. My friend would ask with trepidation what I was driving when I said I'd pick her up for an outing. Although I feel badly now about the end of my relationship with that purple van, I believe she knew she was a member of our family and will always be a part of our history. I'd apologize, except I think she'd say that love means never having to say you're sorry.

Christine O'Leary lives in Calgary.

Illustration by Josh J. Holinaty.

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