TITLE: You Drove What?
By Karen Petty
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It was the late seventies. Every car our family ever owned was sorely out of date or extremely likely to break down at the most inopportune moments. We didn’t mind. In fact, we were kind of used to it. During my primary school years, we had a bright reddish-orange Volkswagon van, complete with lovely crushed velvet curtains. All our friends (and even local strangers) recognized us as we zipped around town. My mom is an artist and had painted scriptures in big letters along with several depictions of children from around the world. My older sister was the model for the dark skinned Mexican child. Anyway, this vehicle was mostly embarrassing rather than unreliable. I’m not sure which is worse when you are a kid and trying to fit in. My mom attempted to make a game out of everything. We were going to have fun whether we liked it or not. It seemed that every time our vehicle broke down, my mom conveniently whipped out a plastic grocery bag and had us out picking up litter. And that, WHILE WE SANG. Yep, I’m sure we somewhat resembled the monkey-esque children hanging from the trees, in The Sound of Music. During one particular breakdown, the horn was somehow stuck in the “on” position. There is nothing like picking up trash while having a horn bellow out to onlookers “hey, check out these kids over here picking up trash by their dead car”. I remember hoping that none of my friends would drive by and see me.
At one point, my parents drove a ’60 Chevy Bel Aire. The outside looked pretty cool, as my dad had taken the car to the airplane hanger where he’d worked and painted it with airplane paint. I’m not so sure he had checked with his boss before doing this. Anyway, while the car looked smooth and shiny on the outside, the inside was old and had a minor flaw. The floor was rusting out. Fortunately, none of us slipped away on the way to church or wherever we happened to be traveling to. Other than getting muddy water splashed up onto my legs on a rainy day, the holes were awfully entertaining. In fact, my siblings and I considered the holey floor to be a real perk. Not only could we watch things go by, but we could accidentally let things escape from our vehicle & watch them bounce down the road through the rearview mirror. You’ve got to admit that can sound pretty fun for a kid. I was especially grateful for the faulty flooring when my mom had brought along a bag full of dried prunes and insisted we try them. Oh, we tried them all right…and they were good bouncers! Speaking of bouncing, there were no seatbelts installed in the teal vinyl seats. It was like having our own carnival ride. At least it gave the back of our legs a break from the burning hot upholstery!
There were no seatbelt laws in our state for most of my childhood. This was fortunate, I guess, as for a time we drove a two door Subaru. There were six of us altogether. Are you feeling the love? We weren’t. Four kids packed into the back seat, all the while being forced to listen to my mom’s eight track of Charlie Rich! Talk about no seatbelts? We were wedged in so tight that we may not have budged had we had an accident. Sometimes, however, if we just couldn’t stand it, we would take turns LYING in the back window area. While the proud recipient of our sunken in back window area would “stretch out” sort of, those who were left in the seat enjoyed the spaciousness of only two people pressing their legs on you, rather than three. It was an upgrade, for sure. My younger sister and I got the back window the most, as we were the smallest. I’m fairly certain that we must’ve looked like a clown car, as we unloaded ourselves after each ride.
Did I mention that for a season, my Dad bought and drove an old Snap-On tool truck? He and Mom sat in the only available seats while my sibs and I stood in the back, hanging onto the metal shelving. It was sort of like our own little subway ride.
No vehicle we owned had A/C, until I was well into high school. This meant that we sweated... a lot. If the car was big, it wasn’t so bad, except when my parents would run into a store leaving us in the car, in the summer. It was like rolling the windows down in a sauna. No effect. If the vehicle was smaller, we argued more saying things like “get your leg off me”.
My main requirements in choosing a vehicle now as an adult have been molded through my experiences as a child. I must say that despite all the hardships in the automotive department of my younger years, it wasn’t half bad. I did learn to compromise and to enjoy the journey. Still, I hope you’ll understand if I vote for A/C and seatbelts when I’m driving my own kids around town …and maybe a bit of chocolate thrown in for good measure!
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