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Letting go of my Volkswagen Beetle after 40 years is bittersweet

Gail Diederich bought this Volkswagen Beetle in 1971 when she was a newlywed in Kentucky. The bug was like a family member.

GAIL DIEDERICH | Times

Gail Diederich bought this Volkswagen Beetle in 1971 when she was a newlywed in Kentucky. The bug was like a family member.

I recently sold a family member, and letting go was tough. We'd grown distant over the years, although one look could open the floodgates of memories. But the sales transaction created a new memory — and changed my mind-set.

It was all perfectly legal, of course. The family member I bid farewell was my 40-year-old yellow Volkswagen Beetle, bought brand new for about $2,200 on a rainy September morning in Lexington, Ky. I didn't have a driver's license when I bought the car in 1971 with my new husband, but I soon learned the rhythm of gears and clutch to keep the VW moving smoothly. I earned my operator's license in the VW.

A drive to visit Tampa in-laws that Christmas saw gas at 26 cents a gallon and the trip from Berea, Ky., cost less than $10. We were amazed even then, but never guessed the time would come when $10 of gas wouldn't even fill the small tank.

In May 1977, I left my east Tennessee home, sitting gingerly in the VW, and knew life would soon change. I was on the way to the hospital for the birth of my son, who later spent hours riding back and forth to school in the little car. A daughter arrived and added more memories, including the time, when she was about 2, I caught her fascinated with holding a strawberry milkshake upside down, watching drips splatter on the black vinyl seats.

The years rolled on. After a move to Florida, my husband and I divorced but the little car stayed. As a teacher, I drove the VW for years from my North Tampa home to Pasco County schools: Schrader, Calusa, Gulfside and Seven Springs. Students knew the car and brought me VW things: pencil sharpeners, key chains, miniature cars and a yellow VW eraser from my young daughter.

A gold VW necklace charm came from a student I taught for three years and who felt much like my own child. It was stolen during a 1999 burglary. The crook was caught and I came to the police station to claim the recovered items. The VW charm triggered tears.

Restoration started at Mancini Automotive's State Road 52 shop, where the little car had been serviced since 1980. Due to my complacency of knowing the car was in good hands, time slipped away. The car was beautiful but still needed "a little TLC," Paul Mancini said.

Finally, I decided to let the car go. Nibbles from online car ads produced only e-mail exchanges from people who loved VWs. Then I posted my Beetle in the Times' collectible car section. I got phone calls from some people interesting in seeing the car, but more often the possible buyers and I just ended up chatting. One couple was retired educators, like me, and we talked more about teaching than the car.

Then a new call came, and I was taken aback at the voice of a young woman, keenly interested. I was curious why this young bank vice president would want to buy my car.

She sent an e-mail with a photo of her father from years back, standing alongside his 1957 Chevy that he'd bought new and enjoyed for many years. The daughter loves the old VWs.

We met and her firm business handshake and direct eye contact were satisfying. I liked her pleasant assertiveness when she said, "I want this car."

We drove the VW together, chatted and laughed. I hoped she'd be the new owner. A few days later we signed the official papers and I handed her a gift bag with VW things including a yellow mug and a yellow VW key ring.

Now 40 years since it rolled off the ship from Germany in Toledo, the sparkling yellow VW sailed along smooth as silk, as if it knew it had a new life coming.

Letting go of my Volkswagen Beetle after 40 years is bittersweet 03/12/11 [Last modified: Saturday, March 12, 2011 12:17pm]
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