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Monday, March 28, 2016

J Is For Jalopy


For most of my life, we had two cars in the driveway: The Good Car and Dad's Work Car. Neither one was ever a new car. My dad used his vast network of friends and family, former teammates and Army buddies, work and neighborhood relationships, as well as hometown politics to tap into a huge supply of used automobiles. Now and then, I would be roused from my Standard Oblivion of library books, Barbies, and schoolwork to hear Dad mention to Mom after work that he was in need of/getting/bringing home a car. Next thing I knew, there in the driveway or parked in front of the house would be the latest car. I rarely got excited or interested. After all, what difference in my life did it really make?

Only one of Dad's work cars ever became interesting to me, and it soon captured the the interest of many of our neighbors as well. We had never had a car like it before, and trust me; after it, we never had another one like it again.

Dad had already seen the car, a stubby little  Rambler American (like the one pictured above) in the possession of some guy he knew named Eddie. Eddie was an aged Car Guy, and he already had our old 1952 Chevy sitting in his huge back field, silently rusting into Oblivion. Dad had pointed out some big rust spots on the Rambler's hood and fenders, among other things, and Eddie said he'd take care of them. I think Dad and he agreed on a price of maybe two hundred bucks.

When the Rambler came home, we couldn't help but smile. It was such a funny-looking car, so boxy and small. And Eddie had simply placed sheet metal over the rust spots, screwed it down with dozens of screws, and painted the patches with some blue paint that was as close a colour match as he could find. It was like a FrankenCar. But it was only Dad's Work Car, and it didn't have to be pretty to sit at US Steel or at the curb on E. 38th Street.

Pretty soon, however, the Rambler started having problems. Or, at least, Dad started having problems with the Rambler. On some mornings, it was difficult to start. He'd go out, try and try, but it would not turn over. He'd come in, fling down his stuff, and swear. My mother would say, "Let me try, honey." She'd go out, clad in housecoat and slippers, and it would start right up for her. Once in a while, a neighbor would be out getting the newspaper or letting his dog out, and offer up some pithy remark. Let's just say that those were not the Best Days.

Finally, the Rambler became too temperamental, and Dad began taking The Good Car to work. We were stuck at home with the Rambler, which had begun refusing to start even for my mother. Dad probably began working his Network at this point, but that didn't help me one evening when I needed supplies for a school project and Dad was on a 3-11 shift. Walking was out of the question: it would be dark by the time I got everything and started back. Mom would have to coax the Rambler into service.

With high hopes Susan and I piled into the car, and Mom ordered us to cross our fingers. My younger sister and I were bouncing on the seat, urging the Rambler to life. And it worked! The car sputtered and caught, and we drove on to Kmart, about two miles away. On our way, Mom explained the seriousness of our situation. "Okay, now, girls. Here's what we have to do. I'm afraid that if I park the car, I may not get it started again. So, what I have to do is this: I'll drive as slow as possible once we get there. When I drive past the entrance, you open the door and jump out. Hurry up and get what you need because I have to keep driving around and around the parking lot, waiting for you. When you're done, come out and stand right where I dropped you off. I'll drive as slow as I can, open the door, and you run alongside and jump back in. Got it?"

We Got It.

One of the things that comes to my Memory immediately about this Incident is not that it was stupid or inconvenient or even dangerous. It was all of those things, of course. It was. It absolutely was. But the thing that comes to my mind immediately is that Susan and my Mom and I all laughed and laughed and laughed together like maniacs the entire time. We were having so much fun. We were having the best time.

And Susan and I flew through that store. We were a team, and we knew our mother, the other part of our team, was out there, putt-putting around the entire stupid parking lot in that stupid stupid car, which might give out at any time, so we had better hurry up. I remember looking out through the enormous store windows as I stood in the checkout line and watching my mother in that ridiculous blue car drive past. And we waved.

We grabbed our bag and ran out to the edge of the parking lot, waiting for her to drive by. She slowed down, threw the passenger door open, and almost stopped the car. Susan and I flung ourselves into the front seat. Mom hit the gas, and we struggled to shut the door. We were laughing so hard that we couldn't even speak. We made it home, and Mom parked the Rambler in front of the house as if it had never left. Knowing her, I'm sure that as soon as she turned off that car, she tried to turn it over again, but I can't really remember.

No, we never had another car like the Rambler. The rest of the cars were much more reliable and much less adventurous. Times with my mother and my sisters, however, continued to be pretty much the same. Thank goodness.

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20 comments:

  1. How lovely that you all found it fun instead of annoying and bothersome! It is interesting to me that many times the fondest memories are when something went wrong and yet something positive came out of it. Kudos to your mother for fostering such a positive attitude in her family.

    My husband has a similar story, but not a lot of fun or happiness involved. His older brother had a truck, and was charged with dropping him off at middle school on the way to high school. Older Brother was not pleased with having this extra task, and so would make my husband jump out of the back of the truck as he slightly slowed down next to the curb. He could not be bothered to completely stop, apparently. Bones were never broken, but lots of bruises until my husband taught himself the proper way to roll when he hit the ground.

    Good times, good times.

    ReplyDelete
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    1. Gina--I was thinking the same thing as I was going over my memories. So many of them are of moments when things went awry. We probably need to remember that when we are all trying so hard to make things Perfect.

      Siblings can be such pains to one another, can't they? And I bet your husband never once tattled to his mom about such lousy treatment, either. Families have their own strange dynamics, that's for sure.

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  2. Wasn't Mitt's father George running AMC at this time? Oh, and here's a link to a video about "Ireland" telling the "US" that Donald Trump would not be a good boyfriend. It's hysterical.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fdcmn7MIlsQ

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    1. Gammyjill--I think you may be correct. Thanks for the link. I'll save it for when I'm not up to here with all things...him.

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  3. I had a roomate that bought one of these. It was the late 60's, early 70's. He named it "Midnight Rambler", painted a US flag on the roof,put a small plastic skull as a hood ornament. Covered the upholstery with old denim. When the horn switch died, he put a telegraph key,on the dash. Evetually it died and served as an outdoor "room" across the street where my girlfriend (now wife of 39 years) lived. the "room" was for her brothers and eventually caught fire and was towed off. fond memories also

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sillyak--Another Rambler story! I cannot imagine any ONE person living in that teensy car, let alone two. Wow. That it occurred in the Sixties or Seventies, however, makes that paint job at least credible. LOL.

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    2. Oddly, I just saw my friend last night, he lives in another "physical" state. He reminded me that he ALSO had the driftwood bumper option.

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  4. I remember neighbors who had a Rambler. It spent most of its time parked in their driveway... not moving. I love how back in our childhood having kids jump in and out of a moving car made perfect sense. A solution to a problem. Can you imagine the helicopter parents of today doing such a thing?!! Never.

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    1. Ally Bean--Boy, those Ramblers were ubiquitous.

      I know what you mean. Back then, we never ever wore seatbelts. We didn't have ultra-engineered carseats, if any at all. Hell, Susan and I rode all the way out West to the Pacific Ocean in the back of a 69 Buick LeSabre and back for a month and never once buckled in. And yes, as you say, parents today would clutch their pearls to hear of such a thing as that and the Rambler story.

      And so, so many more. What dangerous lives we all led!

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  5. What a lovely memory story. You describe so well. My family also has funny car stories during the telling of which we laugh like loons. What the helicopter parent generation is missing!
    I think my favourite memory is of my mother's Mini Minor that got heatstroke. We ended up in some very strange places when it quit.

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    Replies
    1. Mary G--Thank you. I think all families have funny car stories, if not of the cars themselves, then certainly of car trips or car incidents. We have both. Your mother's car sounds like another car my parents had--not the same kind, but the same malady. St. Patsy was just talking about it the other day. It was, of course, yet another secondhand car that Dad got from a friend. It might have been that car that finally inspired them to get a AAA membership!

      Unexpected adventures make for the most long-lasting memories. I hope you share at least one over at your blog.

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  6. Oh I would have LOVED that car! So cute & weird... It seems to match up with my Studebaker obsession (there was a junked one at a house nearby - every time we went past the house I mooned over that car - ha!).

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    1. Bug--It was the littlest car we ever owned, ever. Dad always liked big boat-like cars, and he later developed a real obsession with huge Lincolns. We were all shocked to see such a wee car turn up, believe me.

      I always thought Studebakers were large, long cars. I'm off to do a little image searching now to learn something.

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    2. This page has one that looks somewhat similar to the one I liked - and the year is probably about right too: http://auto.howstuffworks.com/1950-1951-studebaker.htm

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    3. Bug--But there is NO EXCUSE for this: http://studebakerpictures.com/pics/Studebaker.1950.champion.5558.jpg

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  7. Nance-
    Your description of running along and jumping into the open door of the moving car reminds me of the running gag in "Little Miss Sunshine" - the road trip movie where everyone had to get out and push it to start. And like you guys found the humor in it, eventually the movie characters did too - a bonding moment...
    -Dean

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    1. Dean--Oh, I remember that movie. What an incredibly talented cast in that one.

      Yes, I see the parallel exactly. Hee hee.

      Delete
  8. Your story reminds me of a car we had when I was in 5th grade, where to get it to start, one person had to turn the ignition key, and another person had to put a screwdriver between two parts of the engine somehow. My memory is bad about the why and how of it, but it was limiting as it meant my mom could never go anywhere alone, unless she could rely upon someone there helping her out (like at work). We were all glad to see that car go. I think it was a Vega, and this was the mid to late 70s.

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    Replies
    1. J@jj.com--Um...J, are you entirely certain that your mom wasn't stealing that car? LOL.

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