One of my horror stories from childhood was having to wash my father's car every weekend - and cleaning the whitewall tires with a toothbrush. For no pay. That, and never being allowed to eat in the car and having to remove every last tiny bit of trash from it each time we got out, and heaven forbid we put something in the little ashtrays on the door handles. When we started driving, the lectures on removing all traces of sand from the bottom of our shoes, and never wiping the fog off the window or mirror with anything but Windex and a clean rag, and DO NOT LEAVE THE RADIO OR AIR CONDITIONER ON drove my teenager-self crazy. By the time I left home I was in full revolt - in my head at least - condemning my parents for being materialistic control freaks.
On my own, I drove cheap, ugly, trashy cars and happily added my own trash to them. I joked that my car was simply a closet on wheels and that I was not so shallow as to care what the thing looked like.
But time has taken its toll on my disdain, and as an adult - still driving old cars for the most part - I am getting why even a high-minded, self-righteous, non-materialist might deign to take care of one of them: They last longer.
My parents grew up during the depression and during a time when everyone didn't have a car. My grandmother grew up in a small town in North Florida and didn't get a license until she was in her mid-forties. Owning a car was a luxury and a huge expense, and their cars didn't get changed out each time a new model arrived on the showroom floor. They cared for their cars, and the money they saved by doing so provided food on the table and educations for their children. It also kept a lot of metal and vinyl out of landfills.
Earlier this month, a friend of the house gave us his little truck - a 1991 beauty. We haven't had a truck for a while and have really needed one to haul garden equipment to our empty-lot garden, produce from the farmers market, and furniture for people moving out into their own homes, among other things. We would have been appreciative of a "clunker" - anything that drove at all. But this little truck, it is clear, is not that. He's taken care of it for 18 years - kept it clean inside and out, made it last. It smells good. It runs smoothly. It's going to help us out so much. It could be in the junk heap with a lot of other eighteen year-old cars, but it's not used up yet.
In a world with dwindling resources, it is a virtue to take care of things, to be able to pass them down or pass them on. Care is at the core of frugality and responsibility, and Jon's passing down the truck he has cared for to us, makes me want to eke every bit of goodness out of it we can, use it well, and remember to pass on the good things in our own possession when the time comes.
But thank goodness it doesn't have whitewalls.