I am a mother. And that makes me, in the eyes of my teenager, inherently, irrevocably and irredeemably uncool. But for one halcyon moment last summer, I wasn’t. What was my vehicle to momentary redemption? A red Mustang convertible, top down, its Sirius satellite radio blasting, as we drove, wind whipping our hair, into summer.
Thank you, Hertz Fun Collection. It gave me an unexpectedly wonderful interlude with my daughter, who, like all children, is growing up far too fast. I will remember that trip forever. And it reminded me, once again, that travel is as much about emotional journeys as geographic ones.
It grew out of a challenge — getting my daughter to camp in the face of conflicting family schedules. She’d lobbied hard for flying as an unaccompanied minor from New York to Minneapolis, as many campers do. But my apron strings are far too tight for that.
My solution was to fly with her to Minneapolis on my way to a conference in Las Vegas and drop her off with my mother in Wisconsin. I’d continue on to Vegas, while they enjoyed a few days together and then my mother would take my daughter to the camp bus that the camp urges all campers to take in order to promote bonding.
Our rendezvous point was the family cottage, a turn-of-the-last-century Midwestern Shangri-La called Spring Bank. I’d rented a car for the three-hour drive from Minneapolis, requesting a convertible and getting a Chrysler Sebring. That appeased my daughter somewhat. “But I’d still rather fly,” she said, giving me “The Look.”
At the Hertz counter in Minneapolis, it turned out that I had a choice: the Sebring or a Mustang. Gearhead that I am, I didn’t hesitate. The Mustang! “What?” my daughter protested when I told her of the change. Somehow, Chrysler had imprinted its brand on her young mind. Now, I’m sure the Sebring has a sporty feel, but the Chryslers I have driven have always handled like couches on wheels.
My daughter put the top down, taking ownership of that task for the rest of the trip. You can’t beat watching that rag top rise up and fold back, putting nothing between you and the world. After some channel surfing, we settled on the top hits. We worked through the week’s top 40, naming our favorites “Bleeding Love” “Shake It” and “Our Song.” Sometimes the DJ would play one of my daughter’s oldies — “1985” was one — that we could even sing them together.
We passed a Sebring. “That’s the car you wanted,” I said to my daughter. “Oh,” she said, studying it carefully. “You were right, Mama, this one is much cooler.” Phew, I breathed inwardly. Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song” played in my head.
We passed an SUV and the woman driving it waved at us. “Everyone is looking at us!” said my daughter, pleased at the attention. We talked, we listened, we sang, and, in what seemed like no time, we pulled off the Interstate onto the state highway that would take us to the cottage. We switched to the iPod and some of last summer’s favorites — first Sugarland’s “Baby Girl,” and then, as we turned on to the gravel road to Spring Bank itself, Kenny Chesney singing “Summertime.”
It was a wonderful afternoon with my mother. After lots of hugs, we all hit the beach, where my daughter and I dove into the icy waters of the spring-fed pond and swam to the raft. There we lay, basking in the sun, the scenery and the moment.
We meandered back to the cottage. There was my mother behind the wheel of the Mustang. “I want one,” she said. She looked at it and added, “We should have one every summer.” This from a woman who has owned nothing but station wagons for 50 years.
With my BlackBerry I shot a photo of her at the wheel — looking quite dashing in the Yves-Montand-style sunglasses she’s wearing while she waits to have a cataract removed — and promptly emailed it to my brothers, my sister, a variety of cousins and, of course, several of my mother’s buddies.
The three of us drove around past all the other cottages, my daughter sitting up on top of the back seat, waving to long-time friends as we played our very own soundtrack for a Wisconsin summer afternoon — “This One’s For the Girls,” “Men Buy the Drinks-Girls Call the Shots,” and, with a bow to the inevitable, “Ticks.”
All too soon, it was time for me to leave. “Will you go swimming with me again?” asked my daughter. Regretfully, I shook my head. “I’ve got to get to the airport,” I said. And then I reconsidered. We threw on our suits, sprinted to the beach and dove in again.
Then, it really was time to leave. I hugged my mother, then my daughter, still a slightly built child, even though she now is nearly as tall as I am. I started to let her go. Unexpectedly, she clung to me. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see my mother watching. In a flash, I saw her and my father saying goodbye to me and my four siblings, one by one, as we headed off — to college, to jobs, to marriage and our own families.
I got back into the Mustang, backed out as the two of them waved, then stopped. “Wait!” I called out to them. I turned on the radio, still hooked up to the iPod. “Summertime!” sang out Kenny Chesney. I drove slowly down the gravel road, waving to them as long as I could see them in the rearview mirror. As I turned on to the highway, out of their sight, I floored it. Who could resist? Summer is short, and so is life. We’ve all got more convertibles to drive, top down.