Recalling the Family Wheels

If you are over the age of fifty, I have a challenge for you. Try to remember as much as you can about the first cars you ever rode in and the trips and adventures you had. Imagine the makes, the models, colors, smells and whether you had to flop the seats down to get in the back or, if you were like my brother and me, you either just dove over the seats or through the open back window. (Since Bo was shorter, I had the advantage in the window diving style because of my height.) Do you remember your Dad changing a flat at night on a winding two-lane road in the rain and your mother cautioning you to be quiet so dad could work? Try the time the snow –or in our case sand– had reduced visibility to about three feet in front of the bumper and your Dad, stoic as always, guided your mother as driver to a safe pullout.

The reason I set the age limit for this quiz at over fifty is that most cars less than, say thirty years old, don’t have as much character as the lumbering smoking, creaking, leaking fun cars we had as kids and therefore are not as likely to have had as much effect on who we became. It’s generally accepted that we are to much extent the sum of the influences we have had during our lives. In that case I’m part land yacht Oldsmobile, adventurous Chrysler, girl magnet T-Bird (the attracting pole) and ’61 Ford Falcon girl magnet (repelling pole) Toss in a couple of pickups for solid utility.

When you were young and in the back seat did you sit quietly, hands folded as your mother and father told you or did you just imagine the car was a mobile version of your tree fort and play as you would in any other place. Bo and I weren’t terrors, exactly, but we were certainly not as angelic as the picture you might find of us elsewhere in this blog would lead you to believe.Being as rambunctious as most normal kids of the time were were, you can imagine that long trips were a bit more trying on our folks than they might be today in the world of iPods ‘n such. I usually had my nose stuck in a book and Bo would be playing with his toy jeep and plastic cowboys. There were no McDonalds so we did the baloney sandwiches, Fritos and RC cola routine. Sometimes we had hard-as-shingles peanut butter cookies Mom had made for the trip.

We took lots of car trips in those days; folks just seemed to want to get out away from the house more as families then and didn’t need much more of an excuse than good weather or an invitation to a good feed for no apparent reason. Our parents weren’t like the Andersons from “Father Knows Best” but they were certainly not like those from the more contemporary sitcom folks. I know that my dad was born with infinite patience and hardly ever lost his cool as long as he had a smoke in his lips and a beer between his legs. Mom, however was the most universally-jointed at both elbows and shoulders lady I have ever known and would reach down to remove her infamous flip flop to lash at us over the seat. (those flip-flop whuppins pop up often in these stories, get used to their reference)

On those long haul trips, did you lay out on the back deck above the seat and under the rear glass so your sibling could stretch out on the seat below?  The logic was not that he would get the softer cushion of the seat, but that I would have him to land on in case of a sudden stop while I was asleep above him. That back deck was also great for us to play board games and color in our drawings on those car trips. Interesting thing, however, if you leave a cigar box full of crayons on that deck in the hot Texas sun, they might surely melt and make one hell of a mess back there, especially when the wax leaks down into the speaker grill. That mistake took dad three cigarettes and two beers to get over.

We never owned a new car, but my father always had an eye for a good car. My grandfather on my Mom’s side was generally a trader and car swapper so I imagine he had some input in the selections. The first of our cars I remember was an early 1950’s Olds 88. I’d like to think that car was a ’55 since I was born in that year, but I suspect it was a ‘54 since the curves were a bit softer. (I wonder if my admiration for soft curves might have been engendered in those days.) Anyway, it was two-tone brown and cream and had a plush velveteen interior which was also soft; none of that sticky vinyl of later years that would burn the bare backside of your shorts-clad legs in summer. The dash was a thing of wonder and was very futuristic as most were at the time. The steering wheel, as big around as a ships wheel even had a bas relief image of a ringed planet in its center.

Our Dreadnought

The Helm

(To be continued…)

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