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Cars


Sun, Aug 20th, 2000
Posted in

Monday, August 14, 2000

My grandfather on my fathers side was quite mature when I was born. Im sure he must have been almost seventy. I dont think that I got to know him very well before he passed on. He wasnt the type to bounce you on his knee and play games on the floor with kids. However, he did let me drive his car once in a while when I was far too young to legally drive, so he was okay in my book.

Family rumor has it that Grandpa was not particularly mechanical. He farmed with horses for most of his life and evidently had some problems adapting to engine-powered machinery. My uncle told me of the time when several loads of baled straw had to be moved across a small ravine to a shed. Grandpa insisted on driving the pickup and every time he came to the bottom of the ravine, the truck stalled. With everyone watching, he had to get it going again. Inevitably, the pickup moved with a roaring engine and a clutch-popping jerk. Bales of straw jumped off the back of the truck like cowboys getting thrown from bucking broncos. The disgruntled audience had to help reload and keep their suggestions to themselves. I suspect that it was a long day for Grandpa as he struggled to keep his dignity intact and his foot on the gas pedal.

Although he had his problems with machinery, Grandpa was an easy mark for new cars. He was widowed during all the time I knew him and had no hobbies or expensive tastes that I ever knew of. He didnt travel much farther than the ten miles from his house in town to the farm or the few blocks to church. It seemed like almost every year, he would show up at the farm and park a new vehicle under the big maple tree in our yard.

His favorite was the Buick line. Big Buicks were best. I thought their bright paint and windshield visors made them look like huge bugs. Heavy chrome shone all over the outside and veneered the interior. Mystical red, white, blue and silver shields adorned the hood and the trunk lid. The trademark Buick holes along the front fenders always fascinated me. I knew they were not necessary to make the car run, but they were always there on every new Buick that made its way to our yard. Grandpa took good care of his beauties. During the summer, he washed his car by the windmill using a five-gallon bucket and a broom with a gunnysack tied over the bristles with baling twine.

Grandpas last car was a gray 1964 Buick Special. Unfortunately, there was nothing special about it. I would not have believed that in 1964 you could have gotten a car without as many features as this one seemed to be without. No radio, no carpet, no air conditioning, and hardly any instruments except for the gas gauge and speedometer. It had a heater, seatbelts, and a steering wheel, but that was about it. The dashboard was fashioned out of aluminum and came out to a sharp edge right in front of the passengers. In the event of an accident, this design was almost certain death to a front-seat passenger.

Grandpa might have been getting a bit too old to drive when he owned this car. One day he backed it under a barbed wire fence and made big scratch marks on the trunk lid that never healed. Grandpa also had trouble with a narrowing garage door. It wasnt wide enough any more, so eventually each corner of his car was punched in like a crumpled aluminum can. It was also starting to show signs of mechanical abuse. One of the last professionals to service the spark plugs turned one in crooked. That spark plug must have melted into place as no one was ever able to remove it again.

After Grandpa had to quit driving, his last car became my first car. I drove it to the Twin Cities during my four years of college. That old car and I had several adventures. It was broken into, but once inside the would-be thief evidently changed his mind and left it. Another time a pheasant tried to get into the car through the grill and wrecked my radiator and heater. My dad fixed the radiator, but the heater leaked anti-freeze into the inside of the car. For a couple of months in the mid-winter, I drove to the Cities with no heat and waves of anti-freeze sloshing around my ankles every time I put on the brakes. The bottom of the trunk rusted out completely, so I caulked the side of an old hog feeder to the floor of the trunk to keep the dust out.

I tried to fix it up and keep it going for as long as I could, but finally the dust from the township roads could not be kept out. I traded in Grandpas Buick for a little yellow Subaru coupe. The Subaru was nine years newer than the Buick, but it did not measure up to the Buick in either tonnage or design. Grandpa was gone by then, but I feel quite sure that he would not have approved.

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