Cars Drive Vivid Memories
Highlands TodayI'm not a car buff - far from it. But during the 2008 Caladium Festival I spent an hour or so walking around the Classic Car Show. It quickly became a stroll down memory lane.
Published: September 12, 2008
Published: September 12, 2008
I realized for the first time that much of my personal history is, in one way or another, tied to vehicles. Just the sight of some of those cars, restored to their original grandeur, was all it took to restore some long-forgotten memories, grand and not-so-grand.
There were several Ford Model A vehicles, including one not yet restored. The owner told us he'd simply found it in an abandoned barn. Its sagging running boards and dusty old engine brought back stories my Daddy told me about his first car, also a Model A. When he and my mother were dating in the early 1940s it was already an old used car and Daddy couldn't afford much maintenance on it.
I remember him laughing as he described hand-cranking the engine and praying it would start while my mother sat inside manning the choke. The Michigan farm where he grew up was at the top of one long ascent called Niles Hill. It was, and is to this day, five miles of twisting two-lane road from top to bottom. Daddy recalled how the only way he could get his Model A up that hill was to back it all the way. Mama recalls running ahead to scout out the way and signaling him when another car approached so he could pull off and let them pass.
Another vehicle in the car show was a big old Buick. It reminded me of the black 1954 Buick my Grandpa used to drive when I was little. In my favorite photo of him he's standing by that old car in the driveway of his shoe repair shop. I recall many trips around his small town of Mancelona with five or six of us grandkids crammed in the back seat, anxious to get to the dime store or the gas station where we knew Grandpa would buy us all a treat. I also remember that he would turn that five-minute trip into a half-hour journey by driving 20 miles an hour the whole way, because he had "precious cargo" in the back seat.
At the car show, I was amazed by the sheer size of some of the cars from the 1950s and '60s. I had forgotten how long they were. But I do remember the day Daddy pulled into our driveway in a brand new 1957 Plymouth Belvedere. It was a long, sleek turquoise and white two-toned rocket with a V-8 engine and fins on the back like a great white shark.
And I'll never forget how, just one week later, we drove it up to Mancelona to show it off to the relatives, and a lady driving a pink Mercury slammed into the back of our new car and crumpled those fins into a mass of twisted metal. The force of that crash sent me flying across the back seat and into the window on the other side (no seatbelts back then). My brother, who was and is a real car buff (12 years old at the time), watched from the roadside as it happened. And, when it was all over, he came running and hollering, not, "Is everyone okay?" but, "Dad, look what you did to our new car!" Then my tough, football-player brother stood beside that crumpled car and cried.
Other vehicles in the car show also triggered memories. A 1960s Triumph sports car was just like the one driven by a cub reporter for my hometown newspaper back when I was in high school. He was the college-age, dream-boat crush of a certain part-time proofreader.
A Studebaker Hawk reminded my husband of his first car, though the one in the show couldn't quite measure up to the shiny black Golden Hawk with the Avanti engine that John still kicks himself for selling "way back when."
Perhaps that's the fascination of antiques. Whether cars or furniture or glassware, they take us back to a simpler time, and help us appreciate the long, long road we all have traveled.