Yesterday's outing took me to an interesting convention on the north side of El Reno. Gathered 'round a fireworks stand was a collection of old, rusted-out cars, parked as though the ghosts who once drove them had gotten together at a drive-in movie.
The cars all looked familiar to me. I could name off the relatives who had driven cars just like these 40 years ago or more. The way they are parked reminded me of a family reunion in 1962 at my grandparents' farm at Porum, where we had gathered to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary.
There's the red 1957 Chevy Bel Aire station wagon, which reminds me of my aunt Emma and uncle Dutch from Amarillo. They had a great collie that Emma adored, which was hit on the country road during that reunion. That's when I learned the depth of love that a human can have for an animal. Dutch and I found the dog. The longest walk of my life was back to the farm house to tell Emma and to take her back to see.
There's the Chevy 1955 four-door Bel Air sedan that probably sported white-wall tires at some point in its life. This is the first car I remember in my family. This is the car I remember being parked in our driveway the night the neighborhood gathered to peer into the sky to watch a tiny moving dot. It was Sputnik. My dad stood me on the trunk of the car, pointed up and said "There's your future, Sissy!" I was 2 1/2 that night and remember it so clearly. I also remember countless road trips in that car between Ponca City and Norman. There was NO Interstate 35 at that time, so the trip was made on U.S. 77 through Perry and Guthrie. We always stopped at the Gibble Gas station in Guthrie -- a 1930s stone building with two pumps out front. We had potty break there and then Mama would let me go inside and put a nickle in the candy machine. It was mounted on a post and I loved that machine -- a vertical dispenser with a knob on the side to rotate the candy until your choice appeared in the lower window. That's when you put in your nickle and pulled a lever on the side by the knob. I always picked a Zero candy bar because they seemed so exotic to me in my pre-kindergarten days.
We made that trip to Norman because my brother spent a portion of his early childhood at the Cerebral Palsy center there. He could come home for weekends, so we made that drive on Fridays and Sundays. I can remember sitting in the back seat of that car with Bob while Mama sat in the front and read us stories about Mr. Owl from an old red book. Now I wonder what was going on that we were spending time in the car, but I couldn't begin to guess.
The car died one night in 1960 on a Sunday night return trip -- I remember it being in Perry, or near there. I rode in the back seat while a tow truck hauled us home. It certainly was a unique trip! The Chevy was soon replaced by a sky-blue Ford Fairlane.
This pickup is newer than the one my Grandpa Smith drove. It's more like the one driven by the mother of my grade-school best friend. In Grandpa's truck, we'd ride "to town" on Sunday mornings to pick up the mail at the post office and get the Sunday paper. What a treasure that paper was for me! While the adults played pinocle until nearly dark, I would squirrel away on one of the big beds and spread out the paper, reading it from cover to cover, nearly every section. When I finished with it, I'd find Grandma's copy of "Grit" and devour it as well. Then it was National Geographics and some of Grandma's quaint books on "How to be a Woman" or "How to be a Housekeeper." Fascinating reading. I wish I still had those books. Some of the advice was "Always rise at least 30 minutes before your husband so you can make yourself neat and presentable. Dress modestly and give yourself a fresh appearance with light makeup and fresh lipstick." Clothing advice included having at least seven pairs of panties, five bras, five slips, a modest housecoat, pajamas or a gown. Blouses with Peter Pan collars and A-line skirts were recommended for a youthful attire.
When I saw this old Cadillac, I immediately thought of my Aunt Geneva and cousin Darla, who traveled from Hobbs, N.M., to Porum for the anniversary. They were the last to arrive, not only because they had the farthest to drive, but because the car shut down due to vapor lock. I was fascinated learning about vapor lock and was in awe of Geneva. The very notion that a woman could get into a car and drive across the country alone amazed me. I knew I wanted to do that myself. I wanted to be just like her -- brave and capable.
I look at the size of that car and think it must have been like driving a house. There was no lack of leg room -- a fact that makes me laugh, knowing that Geneva was all of 4'10" fully stretched out on a good day. She had to sit on a thick phone book in order to drive. Leg room was the last thing she needed! But Darla had the whole back seat to herself. I think she could have had a pony riding with her back there.
Look at the trunk! I could probably fit my baby grand piano in that thing. But what a luxury it would be to drive down the Mother Road in such comfort, carrying everything you might ever need in the trunk. Sure, the car probably got 8 mpg, but gasoline was only 13 cents a gallon then. And you could always stop at Gibble Gas to fill up, potty and get a candy bar.
Isn't it wonderful the memories that can come back when you see a collection of rusted-out old cars? It was hard to see what color some of the cars were when they were in their prime, but that's part of the appeal. They could be anyone's cars. Rust is the great equalizer.
I hope the ghosts enjoy the fireworks this summer. I know I'm glad I met them.