I grew up with cars that clanked, shook like a belly dancer, and scattered parts willy-nilly across the countryside. Though I knew other families took pride in their cars and even cleaned them, I appreciated the pluck of the dilapidated cars my dad chose.
I remember bouncing around with my siblings in an icy breeze from the missing side flap of a bucking jeep. We cheered as Dad yelled, “Go, old boy, go!” and rammed the hard-charging jeep into the mountainous snowdrifts that lined the lane leading to our house.
We finished the trip on foot, leaving Dad to shovel and curse, not unhappily, as we headed toward warmth. Mom shook her head, muttering, “He thinks it’s a tank,” as she put Dad’s dinner in the warming oven.
A blue 1953 Plymouth succeeded the jeep. Year in and year out this workhorse sedan transported seven children, dead deer, bushels of canning fruit, and work-begrimed men when it was Dad’s turn to drive.
Such demands took a toll.
One summer day, handsome Kurt Nelson, two years ahead of me in school and evidently a young man of refined sensibilities, looked up from the lawn he was mowing and held his hands over his ears as we rattled, burped, and shimmied by.
At 17, I purchased a 1935 Chevy from a junkyard for $45 plus tax — and a no-return clause.
Mange-like patches of rust disguised the original shade of the exterior. The interior had at one time hosted a fire, so swampy strands of blackened material hung from the ceiling in loops. Overlapping stains I tried not to think about adorned the rump-sprung seats.
My best friend and I flew a single nylon stocking from the car’s crooked antennae and joined the parade dragging Main Street. We received dumbfounded stares and calls of “Nice car!” which we interpreted as praise, not sarcasm. We sat straight-backed like Grace Kelly, smiled like Miss America, and waved like Queen Elizabeth.
In 1967, newlyweds, my husband and I searched the ads for a car within our student means. Bill dreamed of a truck to take fishing, but we bought within our budget: a 1963 Dodge Dart sedan with a passenger-side front door that wouldn’t open, one red fender on a gray body, and a wandering front bumper.
Bill’s additions didn’t help. He attached a car-top rack to carry his battered aluminum boat and tied oars below it with yellow florescent cord. He placed his ancient, leak-prone outboard motor in the trunk along with his gear. The propeller of the motor prevented the trunk from closing all the way, so he secured it with more decorator rope.
The thing smelled like a bass pond and was our only car.
So every fourth working day, I drove three fellow teachers wearing pantyhose and pained expressions to Hyrum Elementary, 20 miles away. I sprayed the car with room freshener and scraped away stray fish guts, but still my colleagues approached the car toting corrected papers and wrinkled noses. Unable to open the passenger-side door, all three sat primly in back as I chauffeured them.
One afternoon, I was leading my fourth-grade class back to our room after an assembly that featured a clown. As we walked along a hallway bordering the parking lot, Dix Framptom pointed out the window and bellowed down the line, “Look, teacher, look, there’s the clown’s car! See that funny looking one with the yellow bows.”
I smiled and picked up the pace, running my interested class past their view of my car.
I lost my tolerance for dilapidated cars that day. Driving home, I vowed I’d never again purchase a rambling wreck.
Craig Daily Press columnist Janet Sheridan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.