This Blahg is long, I apologize, and explain:
The 1970’s were long. Long waits on 95, waiting for those awful tolls. Long lines getting gas, feeling like we had devolved as a nation, resembling the USSR.
It was a long decade, especially for my family, which was struggling to pay for Catholic school and groceries. So, humor me, and read this blahs, I think you’ll laugh.
Growing up as one of 8 children was a logistical nightmare. If I had a penny for the number of times our father referred to our mother as “chief of logistics” I think I would have about $3.50.
She ran a tough, and on time, ship. Her fleet was an array of ever-changing cars. Smoking, limping, reborn, never new, cars.
As you can only imagine, just getting everyone to where they were supposed to be, on time, was a feat in itself. (not to mention retrieving someone from where they weren’t supposed to be).
In 1977, my parents had 4 children in Catholic high school, a 35 to 40 minute drive from Old Saybrook to Middletown.
We probably had about 6 cars at the time. (4 working, 2 in “transition”)
And my parents had “the other half” of the family in assorted grades in two local grammar schools, with 7th grader Warren as their “leader”. I put “leader” in quotes because the only person he led was himself, and sometimes Nicky, into mischief. But, Warren was the oldest of the lower half and he exacted a modicum of discipline that was stern but gentle.
Example: “Lesley! Just because I had a piece of chocolate cake doesn’t mean it was the right thing to do! So, gimme the rest of your piece and let’s consider it punishment!”
Lesley was probably 8, she did a lot of reading, and Rachel was 4, busy perfecting survival skills that kept her, well, alive. That was Warren’s posse.
No drivers licenses. (although at age 13 Warren taught Nick, age 12, how to drive a stick shift, right past my Dad on his way home from work)
Ask my mother what her most gratifying moment was when she was raising her brood and she will, without pause, say: “the day Rich got his license”.
Getting a 3rd driver in the house was like getting that 3rd leg on the stool.
We had SO many cars over the years. I bet we owned, traded for, or were given 75 cars in 20 years. Maybe 100?
Impossible to list them all without help from my siblings….or paging through the photos and slides.
I would often find myself getting out of one car thinking I had driven a different one.
My favorite was the Rambler….don’t know the year, go with OLD…….the Rambler was mostly Greg’s car. He modified it by taking out all the seats to put in cool bucket seats. The problem? He didn’t finish the project in time for the prom so his date had to sit on a beach chair….and the back seats were milk crates. NOT kidding.
I would tell you that they double dated and that his friend and his date sat on those milk crates, but you wouldn’t believe me. But, you should.
We loved that car.
My LEAST favorite of our cars was the white Pinto.
…. It was 1978, the car was probably 1972?
The Pinto had to be pushed down a hill to popstart the motor. (the verb to popstart: hold in clutch in 2nd gear and release when yelled at)
We would push it down the hill and scream at whichever one of us was driving: “POP THE CLUTCH POP THE CLUTCH ,PRESS THE GAS , PUT IN THE CLUTCH , WATCH THE TREE!!”
The problem with the Pinto pop start was if you failed on your attempt? The car was now sitting down at the bottom of the hill, in our backyard, unstartable. Talk about pressure to do it right? I did it once, got it right, swore I would never do it again….until that one time I had to get to my dishwashing job so I pushed the Pinto to the edge of the hill, AND pop started it after jumping in while it was rolling.
I got to sit on the hump of that awful Pinto every day to school my freshman year. Squished between Greg and Lia, in the back seat, Rich in the front as Mom drove the 4 oldest to High School….I cried every time we hit a bump…. I’m amazed I was able to have children.
My Dad called Warren “Mr Fixit”.
At age 12, Warren could, and did, rebuild a car engine, using parts from a mini bike, and an outboard motor. He has owned more cars and motorcycles and boats than anyone I know, times two.
The kid was a mad scientist. The washing machine repairman would hold the flashlight for him. I would hand tools to him as he worked to get one of the cars started: “3/4s ratchet! Hose clamp! Scalpel, Clear!”
I especially loved the carburator starter assignment.
“Jeff! Hold open the fly of the carb with this stick, I’m going to pour a shot of gas directly in and then we’ll start it up. Watch for the flames!”
Didn’t everyone do this kind of stuff at age 14 so their Dad could drive to work?
Let’s not forget Lia’s pale green Chevy Impala. Classic car….maybe 1955?.
It didn’t have reverse. Yes. True. The car did NOT go backwards. You needed to either park on an incline to use gravity to role backwards, or, park where you could just drive straight out. Lia was pretty good at everything, except perhaps estimating her turning radius.
One time, or was it 7 times, Mom yelled down the stairs:
“SOMEBODY GO DOWN RTE 9 TOWARDS THE HIGHWAY. BY THE BRIDGE. LIA GOT THE IMPALA STUCK AGAIN. SHE SAID SHE THINKS IT’S PROBABLY JUST A TWO BROTHER PUSH….THREE OF YOU GO JUST IN CASE!”
…..reply from the boy cave: ” LIA NEEDS TO LEARN HER TURNING RADIUS!!!!!”….perhaps followed by some mumbled profanity.
When we got there the car’s right front corner was 2 feet deep into a dirt embankment. Lia was doing homework when we arrived, (listening to my Neil Diamond 8track probably!)
And then there was the green station wagon, the one that ended up with so many college stickers on it people thought we were kidding.
When we scrapped the car we gave the back window to Mom as a badge of achievement. (she cried)
What was so memorable about the green wagon? Aside from all the UN-airconditioned , cramped, road trips to places like Gettysburg and Valley Forge?
….. the car had one flaw, and it was an important one.
The gas gauge didn’t work.
We used a little piece of paper stuck in the dash with the odometer recorded and how many gallons were purchased. Let me explain:
If Greg bought 3 gallons, and the odometer read 245,355 at the time, he would write down 245,400 after doing the math. (3x 15mpg =45, etc)
The problem with our improvised gas gauge? The math, and the money.
Sometimes we only had 7 quarters, 4 dimes and a nickel when we pulled into the gas station…and sometimes we made some mistakes with our multiplications and additions.
So,occasionally we would get that dreaded clunking sound as the car would slow to a halt, bone dry.
I estimate I have run out of gas 30 times in my life.
(my wife had never run out of gas before she met me….I taught her there’s nothing to be afraid of).
One of my brothers even kept a 4 foot piece of garden hose, a gallon jug and a funnel in his car. He taught me how to siphon gas.
Siphoning gas was a valuable life skill, one that you never want to have to use.
The problem with learning how to siphon gas is that your first lesson is the inevitable.
Raise your hand if you have ever had a mouthful of gasoline. It is horrifying. An experience I’ll never forget, and it will never happen again. It was at the Esso gas station at the North Madison roundabout.
(We always left a few dollars under the windshield wiper of the car we borrowed the gas from. I swear)
Our cars got better after the yacht brokerage business rebounded in the 80’s. We had Cadillacs and big stretch Lincolns with sunroofs and electric windows.
Money does not buy happiness, blah blah blah.
I understand the intention of that catchy phrase.
But, I am here to tell you what Money buys:
Cars that can go backwards whenever you ask it to.
Cars with “Miles Til Empty”, and GPS, and back-up cameras.
Cars with electric windows, and air conditioning, and satellite radio.
Cars with televisions, which keep children occupied, and happy.
It buys big safe cars for our kids.
Cars with speaker phones that get directions, make reservations, warn you about traffic jams.
Money buys cars in a color you like.
Money buys gas, and new tires.
Cars take us back, to a time and place we wish we could visit. Jackson Brown on the radio. A smile on your teenage tanned face…… free at last.
My 16year old son just got his first car. A 2004 Honda Civic. A gift from his Papou.
He’ll never forget this car. May he never need to use jumper cables on a winding wintry road.
And may it take him places he’ll long to return to.