The next Mom before Mom prompt: What kind of car did your family drive? What played on the radio? Where did you sit? Take us on a road trip.
If I could say anything about the cars I remember my family driving, it was that they were all kind of hideous and they all had names. I can also tell you that the last car my father drove was an early 90’s Chevy Lumina. Baby blue. License plate DEZ808. It haunted my dreams for years after his death. I don’t know why- he didn’t die in an accident, but that car drove around in my dreams. The car was spacious but ugly, and the one memory that sticks out from this car was the time we were on our way to a major swim meet and I threw up all over the backseat- including on the backs of the front seats. Oops. No one was mad, in fact I think my parents chuckled. It was that, or throw me out of a moving vehicle, I suppose. I remember getting cleaned up and my Dad putting sawdust down in the car to absorb both the liquid and smell.
There are many cars that shaped my youth, and the people who drove them, too. In all the cars we listened to country music with my Dad. The old stuff, that then, was barely new. My Dad was a smoker, but stopped when I was about 4. I don’t remember him smoking in the car much, but I do remember scolding him for not wearing a seat-belt. It didn’t change much, but I remember it. My Mom listened to a lot of what would now be called soft rock. I loved it. Billy Joel is my stranded island artist. We also listened to Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune and the news. I loved being such a grown up- but I hated the static. In my sister’s car I always listened to the newest coolest stuff- she’s 7 years older than me, so her driving was a big part of my growing up. She was the first one to let me sit in front- as long as I didn’t tell Mom. We listened to Pearl Jam and Dave Matthews. Every car we had, had a car phone that got terrible reception and had a GIANT microphone attached to the visor for hands free talking. My sister was the first one to have CDs play in her car through a tape and a cord the connected in the cigarette lighter. The CDs would skip terribly, but that was OK with us. Her sunroof let fresh air blow in and I was one of the cool kids when I was with her.
We didn’t road trip often, but I was always getting picked up by different people in different cars: my grandfather or grandmother. My Mom or Dad. My big sister. We drove to the shore a lot. I loved the beach, but remember nothing of the drives that truly stands out. I know we loaded the cars up with buckets, shovels and sand from the year before. I remember the year my brother couldn’t get the door closed on the van when we were in a second story Ocean City rental. I could have sworn he was yelling Stuck but with s lisp. He wasn’t. But road trips as a kid are not something I can remember defining my youth.
My maternal grandfather drove a 1987 Chevy Celebrity. Why do I remember the year? I have no idea. Perhaps the same reason I remember Ali Greber (now Bibler)’s home phone number, or my parent’s car phone numbers from the early 90’s. It was just something I remember about that tank. I also remember the bench seat and how much I didn’t like having to move with the driver during an adjustment when I got to sit in the front seat. I can’t remember the radio, but I’m assuming that just meant it was all talk. There were those hot silver buckles in the summer- there was even a middle seat in the front. My grandfather would pull the large padded arm rest out for me to sit on so I could be up high, then we wrapped the lap belt across me and fastened it. Safety first? The entire car was one shade of navy blue or another on the inside, and the exterior a shiny metallic navy. It was pristine. My grandfather drove the speed limit and always made me buckle up. There was the car accident my mom and I got in after my grandfather died and she drove his car. A woman blew the light at the intersection West Moreland Avenue and Blair Mill Road in Horsham. She claimed she still had a yellow light. No chance. My knee hurt. The police came. My Dad came, and so did the woman’s husband. Standing in the 7-11 parking lot, the husband attempted to speak to and blame my mom for jumping the light, my Dad asked him if he wanted to dance. I remember this being one of my first lessons about physical encounters: If someone talks too much, most likely, they aren’t going to hit you. Needless to say, the police were not impressed. The men were told to relax. And what of the Celebrity? It had very minor damage, seeing as it was literally built like an army tanker. Eventually we sold it and my Mom got something else. There will never be anything like the memories of seeing my grandfather come pick me up at school. His big boat of a car pulling into Meadowbrook’s round-about. Him, always dapper, in slacks, leather (freshly polished) shoes, in a sweater with a collard shirt underneath. Sometimes, wearing a beautiful plaid fedora. Not one you can buy now- something more special and far more intricate than what graces the shelves today. His parted and combed, perfectly white hair peeking out from below the brim.
There was my paternal grandmother’s car… It was white. I have no memory of what it was, and really it left no impact. The driver, however, left quite the memory. In her beige orthotic shoes, Harriet drove with two feet. She didn’t learn to drive until after WWII, when my grandfather taught her. She was terrible. She put turn signals on half-way through the maneuver, if she bothered at all. She hit more curbs than she missed. She constantly adjusted her seat and there was always a new seat pad behind or beneath her to help her get closer to the wheel. It’s a mystery as to why my parents ever let any of us get in the car with her, except that they truly believed what didn’t kill us would make us stronger. The one thing I knew as a child about driving, I learned from my grandmother: USE ONE FOOT! I also thought that you HAD to have a steering wheel cover because the wheel would burn you otherwise. Turns out that lesson was incorrect.
My Dad had a Mitsubishi Starion. It was a toy car. Silver, sleek and hot. Literally. The darn thing caught on fire while on the highway more than once- never with anyone but my Dad in it. Dad kept it for a while. It was a pretty cool (figuratively) car. What I remember most are the nights he came home with black on his hands. He would be at the sink in the “blue” (the whole room was BLUE) bathroom and scrubbing at his hands and arms telling me it was just a small fire- he put it out easily- and me envisioning him on fire like a stunt man. I thought he was such a brave guy. There were late nights on the way home from Flyers’ games, driving on 95, that we would listen to doo-wop Sundays on 98.1WOGL as I fell asleep in the backseat. I remember going to church for Easter and my mom putting towels down on the leather seats because they were so hot they would burn my legs. The black leather made squeaking sounds as I slid across it. I don’t think I could put my feet on the seats, but I was allowed to climb on the car… strange. I even look confused about it:
Mom had the most hideous car ever. Her name: Brittany. I don’t know why… and I have no idea why I remember this except that it’s a ridiculous name for a car, but she was a mid-80’s Nissan Stanza Wagon. In brown. Not beige, gold, mocha… brown. I just remember this as a precursor to the SUV. It was higher than most station wagons, and had a roof rack (man, I miss skiing). It was 4WD- I remember because there was a red button. I pushed it a lot. Although it was really, really ugly and I don’t have a particular story about it, this car is something my memory holds on to. Perhaps because of this awesome picture (below), or maybe because it was a time when we were all family, still. I tend to throw a lot of things away… memories, however, I hoard.
And finally, Jeep Jeep…
Jeep Jeep was awesome for many reasons. One: 4WD and a plow. In the winter my Dad got a plow, and I thought we were awesome! It was yellow, and I don’t think we got a ton of use out of it, but with our big driveway and the township’s lack of responsiveness to our street in storms- I’m going to say we were small town heroes for a day. This thing was an interesting buy for a number of reasons… I’m not entirely sure, but I don’t know that it had doors- or maybe just the locks were bad, and it definitely didn’t have seat belts. It was stick shift that didn’t like to shift, so only my Dad could
force it into D and P drive it. The windshield wipers may have just been pieces of metal scraping at the last hopes of life- masquerading as distant cousins of wipers that once were. The Jeep made its way around the driveway, but I don’t have many memories of it out on the road. My Dad wasn’t a fan of the seat-belt for himself, but as far as I remembered, the car couldn’t drive unless we were all buckled in- so this might have been a driveway only car for us kids.
Finally, there was the GT Beretta. It was a two-door in cherry red with black trim. The handles pulled sideways from next to the window. It was my sister’s first car, but my Dad drove it for a year before her… to break it in, I suppose. I have 1.2 million memories of this car. My sister drove it into college, after all, when she then drove my first car to break it in before me! But the most vivid memory of all is the time my grandmother left the car door open in a rain storm. There was a foot of water in the car by the time my Dad saw the ajar appendage of the vehicle from the upstairs windows. Bucketing out the water and laying down baking soda proved to save the car and leave it drivable for years to come, but the tears that were shed are forever in my psyche.
There’s a lot to be said about what shapes us as adults. Why we are who we are, and which of our actions will impact our kids the most. I wish I more road trip memories, and could remember why I loved the hideous Nissan named Brittany… alas, they are just cars. Just trips down my literal memory lane.