My three kids piled into the back of a 1954 Plymouth recently along with their 5-year-old cousin, the windows cranked down to let the hot summer breeze flow through, trying to cool off the sweltering interior of the old car.
But, my 8-, 5- and 2-year-olds didn’t seem to care. They bounced on the bench seat, hanging their arms out of the window and waving at neighbors. The antique car, painted light aqua and cream, was something different, something new, at least to them.
And although there was no car seat latch system or even shoulder seatbelts, we strapped in our kids the best we could, then my mother cranked up the old engine and slowly backed out of the driveway, creaking along the winding neighborhood streets for less than a mile.
We went to see my grandfather. It seemed only right.
As we pulled up to the cemetery that borders my mother’s neighborhood, the wheels creaked and we inched to a stop under a nearby shade tree. I sat in the front seat for a moment, smelling the old-car smell of my grandfather’s car, the scent of oil and gas and an antique car carefully stored and covered year round. It smelled like his garage. The scent brought back images of my grandfather’s garage workbench, with the organized, well-maintained tools hanging on a peg wall, a greased table clamp bolted to the workspace, ready to be used. Each tool had a place, and even the antique power tools were carefully kept in their original boxes, with the user’s manuals. Because that’s how my grandfather was — everything had a place and was cared for.
How I wish I had taken a picture of that space before each tool was taken down, sifted through and sold.
My grandfather’s 1933 Model A Ford truck, which he spent more than a decade restoring when he was a younger man, was sold to family up north and eventually ended up on the same Minnesota farm that my grandfather grew up on. It seemed fitting that, as he “went home,” his prized antique truck did too, in a way.
After granddad died, my grandmother tried to sell the 1954 Plymouth, but never could find a buyer. And so, it ended up in my mother’s garage. We were glad, because that too seemed fitting. That car was the car my mother learned to drive in, because my grandfather believed that everyone should know how to drive a stick. It’s not the easiest car to drive, with its sputtering engine that was rebuilt in the 1970s, no power steering or power anything, for that matter.
When I was a kid, my sister and I thought we were special because we rode in the back of that Plymouth during our hometown’s Christmas parade, throwing candy from the window to people lined up on the street. When my sister got married, that old Plymouth was their “getaway” car — my grandfather was the driver, his red, plaid wool cap sat perched on his head, tipped to the side just so. I can still see his proud smile as they drove away.
And so I sat in the old Plymouth, looking out on the cemetery as my three young kids and my niece piled out of the back, skipping over the nearby graves until they got to my grandfather’s. My youngest, the toddler, tried to pick the fake floral arrangement that had been carefully placed in the headstone. The older kids sat in a cemetery gazebo nearby.
But I sat in that car, smelling that old car smell, remembering the man who so meticulously cared for that vehicle, the man who made such an impact on my life. I couldn’t help but feel grateful, thankful that although my grandfather is no longer here, I can still take my kids for rides the same way I did growing up, windows rolled down and all.
— Lydia Seabol Avant writes The Mom Stop for The Tuscaloosa News. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.