Men And Their Cars

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by Mary Jo Shannon

Automobiles are much more than vehicles to transport us from here to there. Like dogs, they are almost part of the family. They seem to have a personality of their own, and sometimes their owners give them names.

As we look back on the cars in our past, and compare them to the streamlined vehicles of today, we are amazed at the progress the automotive industry has made. Not only do these horseless carriages have smooth running engines, lights that turn off automatically and windows that can be controlled from the driver’s seat, but electronic keys to lock and unlock the doors. And, in case you forget where you parked, you can call with your key, and your car will answer! On the other hand, no longer is it easy to tinker with the engine to get it running again. Today it needs a computer diagnosis and treatment by a specialist when things go wrong.

After his discharge from the army in 1946, Harry bought his first car, a tan 1935 Ford coupé. He says it had mechanical brakes, “and you almost had to drag your foot to stop it.” He also remembers it did not have sealed beam headlights – when the lights burned out, you inserted a new bulb.

When we met at Lipe’s Drug Store in 1953, he gave me a tour of the city in his 1938 black Plymouth sedan. He told me he had saved enough money to purchase his first new car, and soon we were riding in a new 1953 two-tone Chevrolet Bel Air – tan and brown. He had paid cash for the car, and wisely deposited the money he would have paid in car payments, so he could pay cash for the next car. He has followed that plan throughout our married life.

Three years later, in 1956, we drove it to Gatlinburg, Tennessee for our honeymoon. (That was the first time I had ventured out of the state of Virginia!) He was still driving that Chevrolet when Kathy, our second child, was in elementary school. She remembers she was so embarrassed when her dad picked her up at school in that old car. But Harry saw no need to trade it in as long as it was running well. He did eventually trade it in, but I hated to see it go. After all, that car saw us through courtship, marriage and the birth of three children!

Son Harry’s favorite vehicle was not his first car but a 1949 green Ford pickup he bought while he was in college at UVA. He had an apartment in the country and drove back and forth to school. I teased him for buying such an old truck – 1949 was the year I graduated from high school! But he loved that truck and it hurt him to have to sell it when he accepted a Rotary scholarship to study at Frieburg, Germany his senior year. Now he lives in New York and rents a car when he comes to Virginia.

My younger son, John, also had a special car – a  red and black 1968 VW hatchback named Carl. He bought it after he graduated from VMI and was attending medical school at UVA. Carl was rather shabby and spent a lot of time in the shop. On John’s first date with Amye, the nursing student who eventually became his wife, he asked her to reach in the glove compartment and get his flashlight. “Now hold it out the window,” he said, “my headlights don’t work.” Then he laughed and told his shocked date it was only a joke. “I need it to see the dashboard, so I know what speed I’m doing,” he explained. That’s how Amye learned what a practical joker John is. She married him anyway.

I don’t have any worthy car stories about Kathy or myself – I think it’s a male thing.