There are many ways we can mark our personal histories. Those who like to write take up diaries. Outdoor sportsmen and women have pictures of their hunting and fishing successes. Still others pack shelves in their rec rooms with trophies and placards, squinting to read the fine print on the bright brass awards they’ve received over the years.
Many of my remembrances are linked to cars that have driven through my life. Maybe that’s why I’m a motorhead who has "Car and Driver" and "Motor Trend" magazines strewn around the living room. The automobiles of my life have bracketed the passing of years like bookends.
My dad liked cars, too. After World War II, he was lucky enough to get a deep blue Oldsmobile Club Coupe just in time to haul me around. I grew up in that car, bouncing around on long trips, lucky to be safe in the back seat before seat belts were even a thought.
Then my sister and brother arrived. This time it was a baby blue four-door Pontiac Super Chief with an automatic transmission (no more three on the tree). It provided plenty of room for three active kids trying to evade the swing of the driver’s hand when things got out of control.
Downsizing and economy were on the horizon when, in the early '60s, the Nash Rambler showed up in the driveway. With all three of us in private Catholic schools, there were no GTOs or Cadillacs coming around the corner. The car had a push button transmission, back in vogue today, and rode like a hay wagon going over ruts in a cornfield. I never got to drive it. There was no money to cover the added car insurance. Fortunately, I had generous friends who gave me rides and a sturdy bike when I had to go it alone. Mom and Dad gave up the white American Motors jalopy when I went to college after the left front wheel fell off as Dad was driving to Fort Snelling for a meeting. Then they opted for horsepower.
To this day, I wish I had inherited the Chevy Impala four-door hard top with the V8. None of the cars of that era were agile or handled particularly well, but they could accelerate in a straight line like a bat out of hell. They went, and they went fast. When I had the chance to drive the sea-mist green beauty on visits home from college, I wouldn’t have dared strip a couple hundred miles off the tires by hammering the gas pedal and burning rubber.
When my first teaching job came along at Totino-Grace High School in Fridley, Minn., I established my independence in both cash flow and car choice, choosing a baby blue, brand new 1970 Volkswagen Beetle. I was out there in front with flower power. The car put on a lot of miles going back and forth to Winona as I pursued graduate school and occupied spare time with an active social life. Gas was cheap, and I think I put on 33,000 miles the first year I had the car. No wonder it didn’t last.
Marriage and more practical needs emerged. The fun was done with cars for the moment as finding space to put stuff for traveling with three kids and a dog came first. There were a couple station wagons, a van, SUV and pickups, and finally, when the kids left home and the dog died, a bright red Mazda Miata took up some spare space in the garage. It was fun rowing the gears, but when getting in and out became a challenge and passing semis on the freeway gave an intimate view of lug nuts, it was time to say good-bye. Time for the comfort and practicality of a minivan that feels like you’re driving your living room down the road.
So if I need markers for time’s passage as short term memory sputters with random starts and stops, I can dip back somewhere in that mass of shriveling brain cells and remember at least the Chevy Impala with the V8, and still wish I could hammer that gas pedal.
Doug Lewandowski is a retired counselor, educator and licensed psychologist. Write to him at email@example.com.