Whenever we spot an original Beetle convertible, the floodgates of memory open.

We had one: a little white number called "Baby."

Snicker if you must, but be aware that owning a Beetle — particularly one that grows older with a family — is different from the start. It's an icon. The emblem of an era.

Every original Beetle owner has a story to tell about the acquisition of the little devil. We all want you to know how unique, how special, how uncommonly human our particular specimen was.

We found Baby by chance.

We were out shopping for a reasonable, practical car back in the late 1970s, when we wandered into a Volkswagen dealership at the urging of one of our kids. "Just to look," Amy suggested.

She had suffered a miserable toe injury after an unfortunate encounter with a basketball standard in her sophomore year of high school, and played it to a fare-thee-well. We caved.

An hour later, we were signing on the dotted line for a spanking new "double white" (both body and canvas top) Beetle convertible, amid vows that Amy and her sisters would love, cherish, and wash this car till kingdom come.

Within a week, they had moved on to other, far more pressing teen concerns, and my husband and I were left with another "child," our only son. Don't ask how, but we just knew Baby was male.

After some years, he didn't take kindly to bad weather, to being parked in the driveway rather than sheltered in a heated garage, or to trips longer than 50 miles. His "hat" — the convertible top that had been so pristinely white at birth — required heavy maintenance. And when his poor little body ultimately succumbed to the natural aging process, we treated Baby to an extensive and expensive paint job in his 13th year. We considered it a bar mitzvah gift.

The kids grew up and left, but Baby stayed. Like his owners, he'd acquired some new creaks and groans along the way, but we all persevered. The seditious notion of selling Baby was raised, and instantly squelched by a chorus of adult children's voices.

"Would you sell us?" they demanded. We didn't answer.

In his dotage, Baby didn't get out much. On the first few days of spring, and on certain occasions of state, we'd take him for short forays, careful not to tire him.

Finally, though, it was time to let go. When the "For Sale" sign went up on his windshield, it felt like a betrayal. Ultimately, a bidding war broke out between two pretty passionate would-be buyers. We actually sold it to the third-highest bidder, because she pledged to give Baby a wonderful home, and we believed her.

Our final act was to take a photograph, which still sits, framed, on a prominent shelf in our den.

Every now and then, we think we spot him in some shopping center parking lot or on a local road. We honk our horn and wave, just in case it's our little pal.

Our more candid friends tell us we're nuts. They remind us that a Beetle is just a car, after all.

But we know better.

Sally Friedman is a writer in Moorestown. pinegander@aol.com