Sense Memory: A VW Engine
How the iconic sound of the classic Beetle evokes my father’s love.
When I was a baby and I couldn’t sleep, my Dad would strap me in to his ’76 VW Beetle and take a drive. The rumble of its engine would lull me to slumber usually within two blocks, sometimes a little longer.
When I was a little older, my Dad had a ’77 VW Beetle — a cheerful yellow with black seats, and no less magical than the first Beetle. There wasn’t a problem in the world a ride in the VW couldn’t fix. Bad day at school? Hop in the Beetle for a ride to the Fair Oaks Pharmacy for an old-timey soda fountain treat. Argue with my best friend? Jump in the Beetle and head to my favorite gothic/horror bookstore, Dark Delicacies, talking out the problem with my Dad. Dad wasn’t big on emotional displays, but something about being behind the wheel of the Bug turned him into a keenly insightful therapist.
I was heartbroken when the ’77 was sold. I thought I would inherit that car, it held so many memories. Watching it drive away from our house for the last time, I sat on the curb and cried my heart out.
It would be years before another VW pulled into my life. When I turned the key of my Candyweiss 2008 GTI, it was love at first throaty rumble. Louder than the Beetles, more aggressive, but just enough reminiscent in that familiar VW sound that it was a happy reunion with my younger self. A VW was once again our ride of choice to Sunday breakfasts at Bob’s Big Boy, usually with Dad playing career counselor from the passenger seat.
“How’s the writing going, kiddo?” he’d ask. He bestowed his love of movies and storytelling on me, and all I wanted to do was write.
“I’m not a writer yet, Dad,” I’d say. “Hopefully soon.”
He’d smile. “I can’t wait to watch your movies!” And he meant it — the belief, the interest. He really thought I’d do it.
Being older, it’s harder to fix your life’s problems with a car ride, though many contemplative drives did help. But there is one thing I desperately wish a VW ride could fix.
I always thought it was tragic when bad news fell on holidays and birthdays because after that moment, that special day would be forever marked, no longer a happy occasion. I’m not wrong.
For my birthday last year, we received my Dad’s diagnosis. The odd bump in his neck was cancer. It’s fine, though, the doctor said. This type of cancer is 95% curable.
Except when it’s not.
My Dad and I were talking about cars and, of course, the VWs came up. Who knew I would still miss those Beetles all these years later? He regrets selling the ’77 especially.
As I look upon my Dad trapped in his hospice bed, I wish so much for just one more ride together in that Beetle, maybe up the windy Pacific coast to that burger shack in Malibu with the killer secret sauce where we can talk about movies and watch the sun set.