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Dad’s New Car:

We’d always had used cars when I was a little kid.

With Uncle Brontosaurus in the family, this was no major hardship. For that matter, up until I was four or five, I gather my parents’ cars were almost always Uncle Bronty’s discoveries (or his discards), and he continued to keep them running for us.

Well, when I was about five, my parents were evidently comfortable enough with the mortgage payment to have actually purchased a used car from a lot. A nearly new used car at that. Last year’s model in fact. The “new” car was a four-door 1950 (or, more probably ’49) Chevrolet Deluxe.

The manual, which moldered for years in the glove compartment was for ’49, anyway, which model year the car may have actually been, although Ma always claimed it was 1950. I defy anyone to be casually able to tell the difference between those two particular models, in any case.

This was a significant step up, as far as my Dad was concerned. I have little recollection of the ’30-something Dodge which it replaced, other than that it had been one of the old, high, square, boxy cars, with running boards, and that it had been black. The new car, need I say, was green (two-toned). My father was the one who did, after all, choose, it.

I can’t remember what the Dodge had been like to ride in. In the typical fashion of the time, and of our socioeconomic class, Ma fell heir to what had formerly been Dad’s car (and before that, Uncle Bronty’s), a dark blue ’37 Chevy Coupe, with a rumble seat. Now that car I remember very clearly.

The ’37 was one fun car. It was still running — largely thanks to Uncle Bronty — in ’57, when, having finally paid off the mortgage (we paid the house off, free and clear, in 10 years. «sigh» Some of the things about the “good old days” actually were...) we traded the ’37 Chevy in ($35, the dealers gave us for it) on our family’s own, very first NEW car.

Dad had been fantasizing over a New car for his last couple of years as a mortgage slave. And when he finally took the plunge he pulled out all the stops. The new car was that quintessential populuxe dream, a 1957 Chevrolet Bel-Air hard-top convertible. With all the trimmings. Power brakes, power steering, Turbo-glide transmission, and all the standard extras Dad could recognize. It did not have power windows or air conditioning (or seat belts), since I can’t remember these being available at that date, although they may have been in Cadillacs or other really high-end automobiles. And, of course, in ’57 no one ever heard of an FM radio in a car. My own interest in the thing was confined to making sure that it was the prettiest color combination (Tropical Turquoise and Indian Ivory)

Dad was blatantly overexcited about his new baby. He made himself thoroughly obnoxious at the dealership with loudly repeated insistence that the car be “showroom fresh”, and gifted us all with typical, bloody-mindedly, selfish declarations that this was going to be his car, and Ma was not to expect to be allowed to drive it because this car was his. I don’t know how we did it, but somehow we got through this period with our hearing and his neck all intact.

Well, at long last he got his new car. And much good it did him.

Dad, who was just short of his 60th birthday by then, had learned to drive in his late teens or early ’20s on a Model T Ford. He had been driving old-fashioned automobiles with their mechanical brakes, manual steering and “standard” (i.e., drive-column mounted) stick shifts for about 40 years by then. And at that he wasn’t what anyone could really have called a good driver. He was a safe driver, he was a careful driver, but his driving was a good deal less smooth than Ma’s, and he made far harder work of it.

I don’t really think that Dad was ever much more cut out for a world filled with machines than Aunt Pisces was. And he didn’t have her excuse of being a “corrected” left-hander. Only, being a man, he wasn’t given the option of “not worrying his pretty little head over it”. Which was probably all to the good for him, if to no advantage for the machines.

Well, with his new car, he soon found that he had bitten off more than he could comfortably chew. The power-everything just plain freaked him out. Still, he was no more likely to admit to this than a pig would fly, so he doggedly went on driving the car, his progress jerkier than ever, which was not at all justified mechanically, since the car was an automatic. Still, he soldiered on.

Until the day the three of us were on the freeway and he lost control of it.

Dad had hated freeway driving from the get-go. But he still did it. That evening we were on the San Berdoo Frwy, heading west in the number three lane, of four lanes, late after a day of cleaning up rental property in Pomona. We had all put in a full day’s work and we were all tired, and I suspect his reactions were a bit off because of it.

Some yo-yo came barging in from an on-ramp, practically merged into our side, saw what he was doing at the last minute, and swerved away, losing control and fishtailing all over the number four lane.

This was understandably disconcerting. Dad swerved in the other direction to get away from this clown, without reckoning on the power steering. We then went fishtailing all over all four lanes, thank you very kindly. (Never saw a freeway clear so fast...)

We managed not to hit anything before he got the car under control again, but it scared Ma and Dad half out of their wits. That tore it. Dad went back to driving the ’50 (or ’49) Chevy, and, except for very rare occasions. It was Ma who drove the ’57.

In 1969, when Dad and Ida married, he sold the ’57, and celebrated the occasion by buying himself a “showroom fresh” Cadillac.

Ida drove him in it.