Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Old Car

When I was a kid we had a 1959 Buick station wagon that my parents had bought used. Dad didn't know until a couple of years later that the thing had been in a serious enough wreck that part of the frame was permanently skewed. He had to repeatedly replace the bracket that held the steering column in place because it would sometimes break after going over a bump.

I always thought the brown and white car looked somewhat distinctive. As a kid I thought all cars had faces. The 'face' of our station wagon looked kind of angry.

Dad was always working on that beast of a car. Actually, a lot of men in the neighborhood worked on their cars with some regularity. Mechanic work was a necessary skill for middle class automobile owners back in those days because automobile reliability was actually pretty poor. It was not uncommon for Dad to be out in the carport working on the Buick in just about any kind of weather.

Like lots of kids back in those days, we would often play in, on, and around the car as it was parked in the driveway. Mom recounts how my older brothers once played "gas station" with the car using the garden hose. Yep, that caused a lot of unplanned work for Dad.

Dad's tools were sacrosanct. That is, we weren't supposed to touch them. But, hey, we were little boys. Men used tools. We wanted to grow up to be men, so we naturally wanted to use tools too. One day while Dad was at work Mom caught us playing with some of his tools. She scolded us and told us to put them away.

But Mom was busy with the baby, so she couldn't make us put the tools away at that moment. We honestly planned to put them away, but instead we set them down on the rear fender of the station wagon and got distracted doing something else. The huge 'stabilizer fin' fenders simply looked like good shelves.

Later, Mom got us ready and we drove downtown. A couple of hours after returning Mom happened to discover that the tools with which we had been playing were not in the tool box. Upon questioning us, she realized that we had left the tools on the car fender. She knew we'd all be in trouble with Dad, because the tools were obviously scattered along the roadside somewhere.

Still, Mom ran outside and looked on the car fender. Wouldn't you know it, the fender 'shelf' had worked pretty well, because the tools were still there!

The old Buick lacked modern safety features such as seat belts and padding on the dashboard. We would ride up front when we could get away with it. We had a baby seat that hung over the back of the front seat so that the baby's feet dangled onto the front seat. I always felt envious that my younger brother got to ride in that seat when he was small.

Sometimes we had fun riding in the station wagon's rear cargo area. As I was doing that one day, I kept popping up on my knees and leaning against the back of the rear seat. Dad, who was driving, kept telling me to sit down. But I kept pushing it. I was up when Dad suddenly had to stop for a fire engine that was pulling out of a fire station. I fell forward into the foot area of the rear seat where Dad's tool belt was lying and sustained a broken collar bone.

After years of regular problems with the station wagon, my folks bought a used Chevy Impala from a car rental company. We were impressed with its gold color and its seat belts (although it still took us years to use seat belts regularly). Dad arranged to sell the old Buick to a salvage yard.

I rode with Dad for the final ride in the station wagon. We backed out of the driveway and drove to the nearest gas station. The thing was so low on gas that Dad had to put a couple of gallons in just to make it to the salvage yard, which was only a few miles away.

When Dad tried to back away from the pump, the reverse gear refused to work. Dad said that it had been slipping for a while. But it was finally gone, along with the lower forward gears. We were grateful that we had been able to back out of the driveway a few minutes earlier. A couple of men pushed the car back while Dad had it in neutral. Then we drove to the salvage yard using the one remaining forward gear and parked the car for the last time.

As we drove away in the 'new' Impala, I felt rather sad. The old Buick held lots of childhood memories for me. Mom just about died laughing when I suggested that we could occasionally return to visit the old car. Dad said it was a good riddance and that he hoped that we would never see that car again. We never did.

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