Jeeps, Stick-Shift, and a Eulogy

Sighing in frustration, I click the close tab instantly closing the list of used cars for sale. I’ve been going back and forth on this decision for the last few weeks. Ever since my car decided that 30 plus miles from home in the middle of Texas summer was a good time to die. You see, I have a second car. A Jeep Wrangler that I inherited from my father after his passing. It was in his will the Jeep would go to me, and he always said that it would be mine, even before he got sick. ‘As soon as it’s paid off’ he’d say, he bought it with me in mind. I’d always wanted a Jeep Wrangler ever since I was sixteen. 

Thing is it’s a stick-shift and I don’t know how to drive a stick shift. I can’t deny that there’s a part of me that was wondering if it was always meant for me then why did he buy a stick-shift that I couldn’t drive. An ugly little voice that lives in the back of your mind and only seems to speak up late at night. The more reasonable part of me knows he probably had every intention of teaching me how to drive a manual car. We drove it once together, down the backroads of Louisiana a year or so after he bought it. Any more moments of him teaching me how to drive a stick-shift never happened. He got sick, and got worse as the years passed. 

It was my aunt who made the final payment on the Jeep, after he had been moved into assisted living. She was the overseer of his accounts and his POA. Told me she paid it off and if I wanted it I could come get it, after she had it come back from the dealerships where it was being repaired. Prior to him going into assisted living he was on his own and the worse he got the less he went anywhere. So the Jeep sat for a few months without being turned on. I was visiting him when it was decided that he shouldn’t live by himself anymore. It was around Thanksgiving and I hadn’t visited on a holiday since college. My brother and I thought of having a real thanksgiving in a Southern tradition complete with deep fried turkey. But even as I got there and saw my Dad for the first time in a few months I knew he was in bad shape. He’d lost a significant amount of weight and barely seemed to realize who was around. My brother and I took a wait and see approach with him, maybe he was just tired. But his longtime friend said she had never seen him like this and was worried, so we called the ambulance to took him to the hospital. There, the doctors felt that he could no longer be on his own. 

The next day my brother and I met with my aunt to decide where we go from there and at some point the convo turned to the Jeep just sitting in the driveway. My brother got the keys and went to start it. Nothing, ‘Battery is probably dead, I’ll swing by and get a new one and change it out tomorrow.’ Thanksgiving was officially canceled. 

By the end of that weekend it was decided to try to have him living with my aunt with the help of hired caregivers for when my aunt was at work. ‘We’ll try this for a few months to see how it goes’ my aunt said. The Jeep would be towed to a dealership to be repaired, for it wasn’t just a battery issue. Most of my dad’s possessions would be packed up by my brother, and I had to fly back to ATX. Trusting the care of everything to my aunt and brother. 

In a few months time he would be in an assisted living home, his care too much for one person even with hired help. He didn’t like it, I knew that much, but he needed around the clock care and that was much too expensive to do at home. I went only once since he was moved in, spent the afternoon in an uncomfortable chair watching old movies on TCM while he slept on and off. When he was awake he tried to talk, he knew I’d be taking the Jeep that weekend back to Texas. My mom would drive it back and it would stay at her house until I could learn to drive it. He tried to tell me how to drive it and remind me of our one and only lesson, I hummed along in agreement. He paused and was quiet for a moment; I figured he must have dozed off. 

“Don’t sell it yet” his statement caught me off guard. “Don’t sell the Jeep yet, when I get better I want to drive it again.” I looked at him lying in his assisted living bed fragile and weak, a far cry from the father of my childhood. Do you really believe you’re going to get better? I thought. I had already come to terms that he was never going to leave this room, he’d been sick for years and had gotten worse as time went on. This was the same disease that had claimed his older brother. But as I looked at him, I couldn’t kill his last remaining fragment of hope. “Of course not, when your ready for it I’ll bring it back.” He nodded and we went back to the quiet  of watching Turner Classic Movies. 

That was my last interaction with my dad, my mom had come in to say a few words when she came to collect me. I knew he enjoyed having visitors, would talk to me about everyone who would visit him. Then we left and that was it. I spoke to him on the phone, of course, less and less as time passed. It had gotten hard for him to answer it, and he never remembered to call back. I was just wondering when I could come down again. It was early June when my aunt called. He was admitted to the hospital again, the second time this late spring early summer. His organs were shutting down, he was no longer able to make legal decisions. So it fell to my aunt as his POA and she didn’t want to make any decision without input from my brother and I. 

The doctors wanted to try this procedure; no guarantees it would work, but without it he may not last much longer. My aunt gave me the number for the doctor, I had questions. He answered them with an air of logic and no emotions. But he paused after all my questions had been answered. “Right now, he can not make this decision” the Doctor started “So now you and your family must on his behalf. This procedure may extend his life, but something to keep in mind is his quality of life.” I nodded forgetting I was on the phone and not in person, but words couldn’t quite get passed my throat. “Just something to think about, and what he would have wanted.” I thanked the doctor for his time and hung up the phone. I called my brother hating that I was going to be the one who told him. No answer just a voicemail. 

“Call me when you get the chance it’s important” I left then called my aunt letting her know I spoke with the doctor. What would my dad want? “I know when I ask him he says he wants to get better, but its like he only says it, everything in his actions say otherwise. I also know he’d never want to be on life support, he did say that.” Isn’t this kinda that? Just trying something to extend the inevitable. The beep of a call interrupted our convo. It was my brother, I put my aunt on hold, and got my brother caught up on everything. He sighed as if he knew this was coming, and we all kinda did. So I merged the calls, if we were going to decide this it would be all together on the same page. Not me being the middleman. 

“You know the last time I really talked to dad, he has mentioned he’s just tired of living.” My brother confessed.  Just like that the choice was made. We’ll make him as comfortable as possible, let him just drift off. ‘I’ll be there in a few days’, it was Tuesday “I’ll drive down Friday and stay the weekend.” I told them as I ended the call.  

My dad passed Thursday afternoon. 

Now two months later, I was wondering what to do with the Jeep. My car was dead and gone, my sad attempt at driving the Jeep around my work’s parking lot ended in tears and the smell of burning. The logical side of me says trade it in, get something you can drive. It could even be another Jeep Wrangler. But it was my dad’s, the only thing besides memories and photos I have. He loved that Jeep, took the absolute best care of it. And I had wanted it for years. But I was unsure if I was able to drive it, maybe I could only ever drive it once. Down a back country road in Louisiana with my Dad teaching me. 

It’s illogical to think that. I know it is. And yet I can’t help but wonder if that was the only time I will ever drive it. Driving a Jeep Wrangler, shifting gears, while my Dad laughs and reminisce about the time when I first was learning to drive and we were cruising down a winding road in Mississippi. “Remember? You were driving and I saw that sign that said “its time” with a little boy praying? And I said “Absolutely not, pull over!’” He grinned. “I remember” I said as I focused on shifting. I also remember going back down that road with my step sister looking for that sign, as teenagers talking about stealing it to gift to my dad as a joke. “The funny thing is, “ I told him, “ We never found that sign” He laughed and I shifted into fifth gear as I merged on the freeway.