Friday, December 26, 2014

The Summer of the Ugly Car

Christmas, at our house, encompasses many things and one of those is the gift of remembering. Somewhere after my husband's feast of roast pork cooked on the outdoor smoker, the conversation meanders to tales from the past. These stories usually start with, "remember when?"

This Christmas we joined in a lengthy account from childhood that had nothing to do with fruitcake or Santa, but rather, when my brother, parents and I drove across the United States from L.A. to Richmond, Virginia. The 1970 green Ford Maverick my parents purchased in California was any car owner's nightmare. The used car salesman must have known that my jet-lagged missionary father was a prime target for a car that had been on his lot for much too long. It seemed that from the moment that my brother, parents, and I set out in this vehicle to tour this great country, one disaster after another happened. The worst was when the transmission froze coming down from The Rockies.

Eventually, the ugly thing with the hole in the back floor and no rear windows, did get us to my grandparents' in Virginia, but not without a series of unfortunate events. I recall that summer of 1974, as the summer of swimming in motel pools while our car was being repaired. I think I remember motel water slides much better than I do scenic views of the Grand Canyon.

Stories make our times together traditional and it's fun to watch my children's reactions as well as my husband's. "Did you really almost drive off the Rockies?" "Did you really get told by a policeman that you weren't allowed to have a picnic lunch by the side of the road in Arizona?" "Is it true you threw your suitcases away and had your clothes in trash bags?" That question inevitably gets asked by my husband. He finds it most amusing to hear that we had to abandon our suitcases since they wouldn't fit into the car's small trunk. Mom brought trash bags and we crammed our belongings into those and packed them in the trunk and two had to be placed between my brother and me in the back seat.

To entertain ourselves as we drove through long stretches of scorching deserts and placid wheat fields, my brother and I either fought or listened to cassette tapes on my Sanyo tape player. The melodic voices of Simon and Garfunkel and Neil Young traveled with us.

There are other memories we share, but lately, that trip is one of the most peculiar and fun to recall.

I hope everyone had a festive Christmas and are continuing to gather with family and friends to celebrate, to enjoy, and to remember.

~ Alice J. Wisler is the award-winning author of six novels. The most recent, Under the Silk Hibiscus, is about a Japanese-American family interned in a camp in Wyoming during World War II. You can read more about it here.