I’m not big on supernatural stuff, but this story is making my spine tingle and my eyes well up.
You see, my father, Virgilio Sarne, passed away last December 31st in Hackensack, New Jersey. He was 76. We had no idea he had cirrhosis. Apparently, he had preferred to suffer in silence instead of seeing a doctor. My close friends will now understand where I got my aversion to medical experts.
Anyway. Some of my longtime readers will remember Papa’s Ford Mustang, the subject of an article (“A Pony Tale”) I wrote for Top Gear Philippines a little over a decade ago. That base-model Mustang was my father’s first and only car (he had been carless before migrating to the United States in 1995). He saved up for it and got it brand-new in 2008 for some $21,000. Now, a heavy rear-wheel-drive coupe is never a good car for an elderly person to own and drive, but the Mustang was the one automobile he fancied—likely an offshoot of his lifelong fascination with horses.
Above-mentioned readers might also recall that my father had actually wanted to get a car not for himself but for my mother. He wanted to look good in her eyes. He wanted her to experience what it was like to have their own ride, even if this meant contorting their old and weak bodies just to get inside the cramped cabin.
That Mustang was well-loved, treated like a family member that received genuine care from its owner. I’m not talking about the technical kind of upkeep; my father wasn’t a petrolhead. I’m referring to a kind of custody that was akin to parental guardianship. He worried over the car’s well-being like someone might fidget over a child. Whenever I used it, for instance, he constantly reminded me to never engage the handbrake as the mechanism had a tendency to get stuck in winter.
After more than 10 years in my father’s possession, the Mustang had racked up less than 20,000 miles (32,000km) of mileage. He had only ever used it to go to work, church and market—all quite near their residence. In his last days, he had become too frail to drive it, and so he let his sister use it instead. My aunt offered to buy it, but he refused, saying my mother might take it against him if he sold it.
On December 13th (a Friday), three days before my father was to be rushed to the hospital, my aunt met an accident while driving the Mustang. Another vehicle struck the car’s passenger side—right between the door and the rear wheel—where my mother had always sat before passing a year and half ago. The impact was so hard it bent the frame of the Mustang, according to the Filipino mechanic who attended to it afterward. The claims adjuster of my father’s insurance provider wrote off the car and offered a totaled-vehicle compensation of $8,000. We could buy it back, sure, but the mechanic felt it wasn’t worth it. The repair costs would be too expensive, and the car would be officially considered a salvage vehicle (which could then lead to potential issues with insurance).
I went to the mechanic’s shop yesterday and said goodbye to the Mustang for the last time. I found two books in the trunk, both about Elvis Presley. If I may digress: My father was a huge Elvis fan, and I’m eternally grateful that he named me after Elvis’s father and not Elvis himself. I don’t think you’d pay attention to an automotive journalist named Elvis B. Sarne (or EBS).
If anyone had told me that both my father and his car would be gone by December 2019, I would have been completely incredulous. But here we are. I think humans do form a mystical bond even with an inanimate object if they love it passionately enough.
Farewell, our most gallant Mustang. Thank you for being Papa’s steed for the last decade of his life. Salute.