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My Love for a Little Red Miata

A husband's affection for sports cars became part of this couple's love story


(Editor’s Note: Last year, Next Avenue featured a story on the Feet to the Fire Writers’ Workshops, based in Louisville, Ky., called  Where Older Adults Write Their Own Stories. One of the writers profiled was Judith Conn. In honor of Valentine’s Day, we present this story she wrote about her late husband George  and their mutual love for cars.)

Our little red car was purchased on a Sunday afternoon in 2002 in Bristol, Va. George and I were out for an afternoon drive. Looking at new cars was always a favorite pastime for him. He read Car and Driver and Consumer Reports; a car buff, he knew cars and their history. I usually went along for the ride, but I did have opinions. When we were living in Massanutten, Va., I told him if we were to get another sports car, I would like a Mazda Miata.

Judith ConnCredit: Compliments of Judith Conn
Judith Conn

George’s history with cars started early. He bought his first roadster in 1961. He was driving a baby blue Sunbeam Alpine Roadster when we met in 1962. George liked to drive in gymkanas (a type of obstacle course) and the car was equipped with a competition clutch for racing. I had difficulty driving the roadster as it was hard to downshift and push the clutch in at the same time. We sold it when we were expecting our first child.

In the late 1960s, we had a British Racing Green Sunbeam Tiger roadster with a V-8 engine. Later, we had a red Honda CRX SI two-seater. Seldom did I ask about what automobile we would purchase. George would do the homework and we would go pick it up!

On that Sunday in 2002, we were in our “just looking” mode. And at a dealership, there sat a shining new red Mazda Miata.  We parked and walked up to the car and began to look it over.  A salesman came out immediately to “sell us on the merits of the car.” It was an automatic, 5-speed, with a black top and black interior. We said we were thinking about buying a Miata in the future, but wanted a 6-speed, manual transmission.

The salesman immediately perked up. “We have a new 2002 on the back lot. It is being cleaned and serviced,” he said. “A young man bought it, but he did not like it and wanted to trade it for a truck. If you will follow me, I will bring it out.”

Hook, line and sinker, we bit, and with encouragement from me, the car was ours.  I followed “it” home.  Yes; that’s right: with the top down, George drove off the lot! We always said this was his “midlife crisis”, so of course, he was the one to drive it home. He also claimed it was his 70th birthday present. That was a small price to pay for our new red sports car.

Sporty, Fast and Fun to Drive

We enjoyed this beauty. She was red and pristine, looking as though she had never left the car lot, with a 6-speed manual transmission, a tan interior with a tan top. She was sporty, fast and fun to drive. An interesting note: a Miata with a tan cover is most often a 6-speed manual. The 5-speed automatics have the black tops.

When we moved to the Episcopal Church Home in Louisville, Ky., folks in our neighborhood often commented on us driving around with the top down. We were “so cute,” they said. Someone even asked me if I worried about my hair blowing and getting messed up. My response was, “If you are worried about your hair, do not buy a convertible!”

There are a few issues with the Miata, though. Driving on the interstate is not easy. Getting up close and personal with the 18-wheelers can be disconcerting. You can see under their trailers and it makes you feel quite vulnerable. That’s why in town, and on winding back roads, are some of the best places to enjoy the ride.

George died in 2014 and I became the owner of our little red baby (we never named her). As the result of a couple of recent falls, though, it became increasingly difficult for me to get in and out of the Miata. I could only fold myself up so much; bending to get in became more difficult and hard on my knees.

In September, I bought a Subaru Crosstrex; it’s my fifth Subaru. The little red Miata was my final sports car.

Hard to Give Her Up

Looking back, it makes me smile to say that my trips with her were always an adventure. I never got tired of spending time riding around in the Miata.

I looked forward to warm, sunny days taking her out for a short spin, mostly within 15 miles of my house. We would go to church, the post office, Kroger, the beauty salon, Home Depot and visits to the doctor. With me, as you can see, she led an exciting life!

In later years, she spent winters in my daughter and son-in-law’s garage; it protected her cloth top from the weather. And then she ended up staying there for nearly a year. Out of sight, out of mind!  Not really. It should have made it easier for me to give her up because I was driving her less and less.

With the car title in my hand, I had butterflies in my stomach as I drove to the county clerk’s office. Giving up our little red car was one of the hardest things I have had to do since George died. I was losing a part of him again. Letting go of the feeling of being a free spirit was hard. But the reality is that I will lose other parts of my independence as time goes by.

By Judith Conn
Judith Kennedy Conn completed her undergraduate degree in Early Childhood Education from the University of Alabama.  In 1988, Judith moved to  Louisville, Ky. and worked at the national offices of the Presbyterian Church (USA) as the denomination's coordinator for Refugee Resettlement. Always in search of a new creative outlet, Judith joined the “Feet to the Fire” writers' workshop in 2015. With Angela Burton as the Chief Motivator, the group meets weekly at The Episcopal Church Home in Louisville. Judith has three children and seven grandchildren and she writes stories for them.

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