July 13, 2008

For the Love of Cars

In 1963 Dad bought his first car, a '54 Ford, for $60. Back then cars weren't as costly as they are now, but $60 was still a lot of money that wouldn't get you a lot of car. My grandmother signed the transaction papers for him, as he was still teenager. I can imagine it was much like the first cars many of us had. It had wheels, and it would go, but one had to tinker with it a lot. It was still beloved.

My dad has had many cars over the years although he isn't one to have a new car sitting in his driveway every season. When he was single, there were some hot rods he owned, but after he had a family, the cars he owned served more practical purposes like transporting the family and hauling firewood from the mountain. Don't fool yourself into imaging minivans with graham crackers under the seats and pickup trucks dented and banged up from countless loads. No matter the purpose, the cars were clean--still beloved.

Over the years I've heard my dad reminisce about various cars he'd had in his lifetime: "I wished I still had that car!" When I was younger I wondered why he didn't keep those cars he loved so much, but now that I've gone through a few cars I miss, I understand the practicality of trading cars you love so much. (I missed the Mustang I traded for a kid-friendly car while I was driving the new car home.) My dad is exactly the kind of man you'd would expect who would enjoy restoring an car. Why didn't he buy and restore one of those old cars he'd loved so much? It seemed to be one of those things he intended to do someday.

Someday arrived after he retired at an early age and had time on his hands. He found a '54 Ford much like the one he first owned from a local dealer. It was in great condition and needed just a few things done to it. Or so he thought. The more he started tweaking with it, the more work--major work he founded needed to be done to restore the car in the condition he wanted. The car was more lemon-scented than what he thought.

Over the last few years, as he was waiting on mechanics who were too busy or scouring E-Bay for parts unfound, he regretted buying the car. I didn't take him too seriously because I thought he'd been waiting decades for the hassle of restoring a car. Perhaps the tinkering and the frustration isn't what he missed from the nostalgic driving of his memories.

Finally last fall, everything came together well enough for a car he can cruise in. There are few things that don't work as well as he'd like, but they're so minor, he lives with them for now.

Elda Mae, that '54 Ford named for my grandmother who helped Dad buy his first car, meets with other cruisin' cars twice a month for a couple of spins on Main. When the streets are quiet, perhaps on Sunday mornings, she takes a drive around town to see what's happening. She doesn't have an exciting life, but she is beloved.

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