Tag Archives: VW

A letter to my dad

Note: My dad, Richard Pannabecker, died nearly 14 years ago. He was a biologist, a college professor for more than 30 years. Like most kids, I thought my dad had all the answers. Most of the time, he had a pretty good one and if not, he’d help me find a solution. A few weeks after he died, I went out for a run. I was just coming back from knee surgery so I was moving pretty slowly. I remember suddenly stopping mid-stride. I couldn’t take another step. I sat on the curb and cried, the reality of his death finally hitting me. Now, all these years later, not a day goes by that I don’t think of him. It occurred to me that I could write him some letters. It’s probably selfish, but if it serves no other purpose, it’ll make me feel better.

Dear Dad,

Do you remember when I was learning to drive? You insisted that I had to learn how to drive a manual and an automatic, so we took a trip to Lima in the VW. I was just beginning to get the rhythm of shifting gears smoothly. Idling in neutral and shifting into first was still a challenge. We were stopped at the light at the intersection of Bluelick and 65. My stomach was churning, because I was sure I couldn’t get the dang car to move forward up that slight slope.

My dad and me, circa early 1970s

Sure enough, it stalled the first time. I tried again, but the car began rolling backward and I rolled gently into the car behind us. You jumped out and checked to be sure there was no damage, then opened the driver’s door and told me to “Get over” in a less-than-gentle tone. I, of course, burst into tears as you eased us forward and drove to a flat clearing.

I think you actually apologized and then insisted that I start driving again. I begged you to drive the rest of the way home, but you refused. Something about getting back on the bike after falling off. Then I think you made a crack about the guy behind me being too close anyway, so he probably deserved it.

We switched seats again and had an uneventful trip home. Soon after that, I suddenly realized I’d mastered the whole starting on a hill thing, and I never had a problem with it again. I still prefer a manual, but haven’t had one since we ditched our Festiva.

But learning to drive didn’t end there. You also made sure I knew how to change a tire and check the oil. Of course, since I’ve never since had to change a tire….but that’s why we have AAA, right? You made sure I knew the value of that, too.

Did I ever thank you for all the things you taught me? Probably not, but I’ll bet you knew it. You were a pretty smart guy.

Thanks anyway.

Love,

Mary

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Dodging another bullet

I’ve never really understood¬†the fascination that some people have for cars. I’ll blame this one on my parents. Unlike other families, we didn’t get a new car very often, nor did we have multiple cars….despite the fact that we had five kids.

The first car I really remember was a green and white Ford station wagon. (My brothers will probably tell me I’m completely wrong on this. They’re all older so they usually know more than me….at least I like to let them think that.) Later on, we traded that in on a brand new custom ordered Dodge station wagon. I remember our excitement as we drove to Pandora to pick it up.

Later, while I was in high school, there was a red Dodge Aspen sedan (our first), a pea green VW bug, and a Checker cab — my all time favorite. Its only drawback was that if you went over 50 mph, it began to shake. But boy, could it carry a lot of people!

My oldest brother, Phil, bought his first car in his early 20s — a Dodge Charger. I was probably just 12 or so, and once in awhile, he would take us for rides — keeping one eye on the road and another on us to make sure we didn’t do any damage.

Still as shiny as the day we bought it

My very own first car was my grandparents’ Hornet. Unremarkable. A few years later, I needed a new car, so my dad took me to visit one of his former biology students — knock-your-socks-off Tom Ahl. Tom’s dealership in Lima was considerably smaller than it is today. He sold me his wife’s mid-70s Opel Manta, a two-door gem with manual transmission that got great gas mileage.

When I married my husband, he had a classic red Pinto that guzzled oil. We sold it for $50 and gave them a can of oil. Then we bought ourselves a brand spankin’ new, fresh off the lot, burgundy two-door Monte Carlo. When you’re a young couple with no kids, two doors are great. But boy, add a car seat to the mix and you rethink your car dreams.

Lindsay and Anne and their favorite Monte

Thus began our life with the Dodge Caravan, the first of which lived for nine years. It served us well, accomodating two little girls who could pack their entire rooms into the van for a drive to Grandma’s. Then there was THE TRIP. We were driving back from Chicago on the absolutely hottest, most humid day of the decade. All was fine until the air conditioning died. You know that feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when suddenly the cool air blowing through the vents turns warm…then warmer? It wasn’t pretty, especially when there was a typical traffic jam near Gary, Ind. The last thing you want to do there is open your windows and let the pollution filter in.

Soon after that, I think the transmission died for the second time and we traded it in on a shiny red 1997 Caravan.

It was the most comfortable car we’ve ever had. The seats in our new Prius come nowhere near the comfort of the van seats.

The van went through everything with us including two daughters mastering the fine art of driving (and parking), multiple vacations where peace reigned because each child again had her own seat on which to spread out her stuff, a traumatic collision

with a deer, and then a few years of living in Kent. According to our daughter, her grad school friends nicknamed it the “Mom van”. Last winter, it said farewell to Kent and traded places with the trusty Hyundai.

Today its odometer reads 150,000 plus miles, and happily acts as the family truck. The two bench seats have been removed to make room for whatever needs to be moved to Kent, Cincinnati, or the local dump. On a recent return trip from Cincy, though, it began to make an ominous sound that suggested a loose belt, so the drive home was slower than usual.  We were warned that if we were lucky, it would require just replacing the serpentine belt, but that it might also involve a broken thingamajig (my understanding of mechanics is lacking).

It wasn’t a question of whether we’d fix it or not…it was a question of how much it might cost. Turned out we got off easy…for this time. In the middle of the day, the girls and I got an e-mail from Fred saying “The van lives!” Phew.

Now if we can just keep it running as long as Karen and Gregg Luginbuhl’s green Caravan holds out…