Mom stomps off from the salesman. I’m already out in the lot looking at cars. She rushes past me with the salesman gaining ground.
“I guess she doesn’t want to talk to me,” he says, chuckling and letting her go on. I wait until she’s out of earshot and apologize. Mom thinks this is effective strategy in the car-buying game, but rudeness won’t get any of us very far.
Mom test drives an SUV. The saleman attempts to make conversation, and she undercuts him. He patiently continues to tell her about the vehicle’s features, and I jump in to keep the conversation going. Back at the dealership, she relents a little as we do a lot of waiting, but her tone sharpens again when he tells us they’re going to offer us $3500 less than we’re expecting for the truck she’s trading in. My father’s truck. It’s an insult, Mom says. The salesman rationalizes that their customers don’t want trucks, that there’s a much smaller profit margin on their new vehicles than at other dealers, blah, blah. My sister and her husband, who know more about these things than either Mom or me, said to hold our ground and not take a penny less.
So we go to a different dealer. The salesman there seems young and like he might be learning on the job. But he’s just the right amount of chatty for Mom. She goes easy on him, laughing with him a little and giving him advice as if he were her grandson. But the trade-in offer is even lower. If anything we’ve expected this offer to be higher because it’s definitely a truck dealer. Getting the minimum amount is crucial so Mom can afford to make the payments. But the truck is also worth it. It’s in good shape. The only reason my sister and I want Mom to trade it in is because it’s for work, with dual rear tires and an enormous tool box. Dad loves his truck, but he won’t be able to use it anymore. And while Mom has no problem driving it, the warranty expired a few years ago. Dad’s not able to work part-time anymore, and now they have his medical bills on top of everything else. If the truck breaks down, she might not be able to afford to repair it, and it’s their only car.
Mom understands, but she’s held off to spare my father’s feelings. It’s taken her many months to get up the nerve to go car shopping. Having little patience for car dealer manipulations, she lets her displeasure rip. The salesman wants to know how much we want and where we’re getting our numbers. I can’t tell if he’s confused, concerned, or both, but he seems to sincerely want to understand our position. Just as we’re getting somewhere, my sister calls, so I rush out and tell her what’s been going on, feeling a little bit bad about leaving the guy with my angry mother. My sister wonders if the estimator doesn’t realize the truck has a diesel engine, which adds to the value. I rush back in to pass along what she’s told me.
The salesman is gone. Mom swears she didn’t eat him alive. When he returns, his explanation is what my sister guessed. The sales manager has gotten involved, and the two men make clear they want to right this grave wrong. The new offer is $500 over our minimum. Everything is lining up.
But Mom worries about hurting Dad’s feelings. Trading in his truck is an acknowledgment that he’s never going to be able to drive it again. We have to at least involve him in the process, she insists, and if Dad says no, the deal is off.
Mom, the salesman, and I head to my parents’ house. They live in the country, so Mom pulls up as close to the front door as possible and goes in to get Dad. In the afternoon sun, his condition is even more obvious than usual. He’s thinner than I’ve ever seen him, with only 142 pounds on his 5′ 11″ frame. His white t-shirt is dingy with spilled soup. He sits in a chair on the porch to rest, the hose from the oxygen compressor tethering him to the house. The salesman shakes Dad’s hand, making light conversation but seems to sense that Dad isn’t chatty like Mom. Dad says he likes the vehicle. I tell him to let me know when he’s ready to walk out to see it, no more than ten steps. He can go without his oxygen for a few minutes to sit in the SUV, but he shakes his head and says he’s not up to it, then stands and goes back inside.
With his mixed blessing, Mom and I finish the deal. We won’t be able to bring home the SUV tonight because we’ll have to go home to clean out the truck. Dad wants the tool chest that sits behind the cab and the trailer hitch he made himself. As she explains all of this, Mom begins to cry. The sales manager offers her a tissue. She refuses but thanks him. She talks about how hard it is to give up Dad’s truck, what it means to him and what it means to her. They’re things I know, but I’m relieved she’s not hiding them. The sales manager listens to Mom and shares a story about his grandfather. He understands that we’re not just making a purchase. This is a paradigm shift.
At my parents’ house, my niece and I empty every item from every compartment of the truck that my Mom and Dad have stuffed over the past six years. Plastic utensils. Bungee cords. Scrap metal. A grease gun. I assumed it might actually take us forever, but within 25 minutes, we’re finished. The next morning before taking the truck in, my brother-in-law will have to remove the tool chest and my sister will remove the trailer hitch. Mom will reluctantly get in the driver’s seat one last time. I imagine the big truck going down the driveway, kicking up gravel dust that settles as the grumbling diesel engine is finally out of earshot.