Every once in a while, I hear an idea that immediately fires the imagination and jump starts a trace of memory commanding enough to reach the surface. I had not expected to find that sort of inspiration in the ordinary, every day work one of my children has been doing for about a year. My liberally educated and very savvy son works as a social media consultant to a consortium of automobile dealerships, maintaining their websites, yelping as needed, relentlessly tweeting, and blogging, all efforts intended to build the prospective car buying public into a frenzy of anticipation as new models replace the old and as old models are in need of adoption.
Think about that for a moment. He sits down every morning and writes about cars all day long, not the sort of subject that leaves room for much frivolity, wordplay, or invention, and yet, against all odds, he comes up with at least two or three concepts per day capable of grabbing even the least motivated potential customer. In the course of the year he has become familiar with makes and models, emerging trends, classic cars of the past, concept cars, muscle cars, electric cars, cars that float, cars that run on peanut oil, cars modified to allow seven-foot NBA stars to drive from the back seat, cars that seat two, four, six, eight, twelve, and cars that never rust.
And the stories … cats in cars, soldiers in cars, new mothers in cars, Ultimate Fighting champs in cars, adopted children in cars, holiday dinners in cars, proposals in cars, softball teams in cars, presidents in cars, zombies in cars, Girl Scouts in cars, stars in cars, tsars in cars … more heart-rending stories than a season of Oprah in cars.
And, in a fit of inspiration, First Car Friday.
Appealing to a broad audience, he threw open the gates of memory once a week. Readers were invited to write in with a description of the first car they ever drove or owned.
Genius! It’s not a subject that demands universal attention, but for those of us who have had a long-term meaningful relationship with a car, and you know who you are, he might as well have asked broken-hearted lovers to wallow in the most maudlin reminiscences of lost romance.
I intended to jump in with a rhapsodic description of the 1949 Willy’s Jeepster I drove for years both before and after the age at which a license might have been issued in the State of Connecticut. I learned to drive by driving, first a tractor, then a truck, then the Jeepster, back when most enterprises were more casual. And by casual, I mean driving a car that had no windows, no radio, and a heater that was essentially a hole in the floor. Well, there actually were openings that could be called windows but no glass. If the weather turned rugged, I could snap heavy plastic sheets into the frame of the doors and hope the hole in the floor heated quickly. Rain and snow were challenging as the jeep’s wipers would not operate when the car accelerated, a function reportedly necessary to driving.
Late in the Jeepster’s life, somewhere around 1963, we tried to improve the fuel economy and performance by dropping medicinal balls into the gas tank. We had been assured by an advertisement that these magical beans would add years to the life of the car.
I don’t actually know what happened to the black Jeepster, one of two Jeepsters we owned. Cars seemed to appear and disappear willy-nilly for a while. A Plymouth Valiant with push-button transmission disappeared quickly, very quickly. Volkswagen bugs, Karman Ghias, a Studebaker station wagon, a Ford Falcon, a Peugeot station wagon all pulled up at some point before I moved reluctantly on to quasi-adulthood and bought my first new car, a yellow Karman Ghia, then a Volkswagen camper, then another Karman Ghia, then a rusted-out BMW, then a Honda hatchback, then three Buck Le Sabres – two of which were stolen, one of which dropped off its axle on the way to The Empire Strikes Back – a Honda wagon, the first of three Volvos, a Honda civic, a Mazda hatchback, a Buick Skylark, a Volvo wagon, a Dodge conversion van, another Volvo, a Ford Taurus, three Plymouth Voyagers, a Honda Odyssey, and a Honda Accord.
See? That’s what happens when you ask some of us about cars.
Observing the warmth of memory that enfolded me, the sweet, sad comfort in bringing old friends to mind (except the Honda and two Volvos that burst into flames and the Buick recovered from thieves who had left shreds of octopus in the back seat), I wondered if there were comparable exercises that might drag one down the dusty corridors of memory with equal satisfaction.
Sticking with the provocation of “Firsts”, I’ve come up with three possibilities, to be tested as this post is read and considered.
First Pets? First Job? First Celebrity crush?
Surely the floodgates open as we remember that first pets, in my case a bulldog with the AKC name of Bernie’s Leatherneck Dan, known to us as Muscles. He went the way of the Jeepster and as quickly as the Valiant.
There weren’t many jobs other than farming to be had in my world, and I did spend summers mowing and baling, picking shards of hay from my arms, legs, and neck. My first “formal” job was peddling ( I can’t say selling) Fuller Brushes door-to-door, following by an equally unsuccsessful door-to-door career with the Collier’s Encyclopedia, which I could actually give away, if the fortunate recipient of my bounty bought the annual supplement year-after-year. Very uplifting work.
As to celebrity crush? No contest!
I saw Doris Day in By the Light of the Silvery Moon in 1953. I was seven and on my first date, with Patty Gilbert, a classmate at the New Preston Elementary School (just a friend). I liked Patty just fine, but Doris Day could sing, seemed really kind, smart, and spunky. Since then, I’m now realizing, kind,smart, and spunky continued to pretty much set the standard from that point on.
First cars, first pets, first jobs, first celebrity crush – trot out one of these in an awkward moment of conversational impasse and see what you get. If that doesn’t get things going, you are in a closed space with a creature with no soul … just saying.