Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Model A

Yesterday I happened to drive by the neighborhood elementary school and found myself caught up in traffic just as school was ending for the day.  There's a circular drive in front of the school and the parents/caretakers start lining up in their cars around 1:45pm.  Over the years I have, thankfully, noticed that the SUVs and mini vans are not as popular as they once were.  They may be practical but so are station wagons and I can see around those.

My parents had a white Chevy Impala station wagon during part of my years in elementary school.  We even had it during our time living in more than one state.  That was unusual for my parents.  They liked to trade every few years and always have a new/almost new car.  Which brings me to a childhood experience that, as I loved to tell my father, 'scarred' me for life.

My dad had been transferred to a town in South Carolina called Aiken.  There wasn't a real Air Force base there.  Just a place called Aiken Air Force Station.  Aiken was this kind of sleepy, pretty little town with green rolling hills and lots of trees.  It wasn't too far from the South Carolina/Georgia state line.  We lived there in the mid-1960's for just over a year.  Ironically, in the years since, Aiken has become this posh country club town with lots of seasonal wealthy people and their thoroughbred horses.  Who knew?

I was seven and in the second grade.  Pam had started kindergarten and Carol was born during the time we lived there in May of 1963.  There wasn't much to the Air Force station so we lived in a pretty house in one of the neighborhoods and I went to the local elementary school.  My dad often picked me up and dropped me off at school.  I don't know if it was because it would have been too far for me to walk or if there was no bus system.  At 7 years old, I wouldn't have been allowed to walk alone, anyway, even though Aiken wasn't exactly a hotbed of crime.

During our time there, I knew that my father had found some sort of old car that my grandfather was interested in buying.  Finally Dad brought it home one night.  It was this ugly old dirty black car with big buggy looking headlights.  Dad found someone to 'restore' it before my grandfather saw it.  I  know now that it was a Ford Model A (similar to the one pictured).  I didn't know that then and didn't care.  It was old and ugly.  Even after a new paint job and new seat covers -- I remember they were red -- I wasn't impressed.

Then, one day the unthinkable happened.  I was looking for our station wagon while walking out with some kids from my class and wondering where my dad was.  That's when I saw it.  NO!!!!!!!!!!!!  Dad was there to pick me up in the Model A.   I ran over to the car where Dad had opened the passenger door for me and hoped he'd hurry up and get as far from the school as possible.  Ugh.  Dad was smiling the whole time while I asked him "why are you driving this?", "I didn't think it would even go", "where's our station wagon?"

Dad said he decided to give the Model A a spin and that it was fun.  I was mortified that my friends saw it.  He just laughed and told me it was a 'classic' and to enjoy the ride.  I was getting knocked around by the not-so-smooth ride and the car was so loud that we almost had to shout to talk.  Poor Dad didn't realize that his explanations and attempts to explain the history of this car didn't matter to a 7 year old girl.   

After that, Dad took me to school a few times in the Model A because people he worked with wanted to see it.  I begged, pleaded, wheedled -- everything I could think of to get out of being seen in that car.  I asked him to please let me off a block before the school ("I love walking!  I never get to walk enough").  He said that was silly and that the other kids liked seeing the car.  I told him, melodramatically, "but, everyone will think we're poor!"  That didn't work, either.  The best I could do was slide down as far as possible in the seat clutching my red plaid school satchel until I could make my get-away.  I practically ran to my classroom holding my satchel almost to my shoulder in a vain attempt to hide.  I remember looking back and seeing my dad showing the car to some of the boys.  Meh.  Boys.  What did they know. 

When we took our next vacation, just before being transferred to Kansas, we towed the Model A from South Carolina to Florida.  My grandparents lived in Tampa and we visited them whenever we took a vacation, usually during the summer.  It was actually kind of cool towing the Model A behind our station wagon.  People kept honking their horns and pointing to the car and smiling.  Whenever we stopped for gas or to eat, people gathered around and asked my dad questions about the car.

My grandfather loved it when he saw it and kept it in a separate garage/tool shed behind his and my grandmother's  house.  Later, Pam and our cousin Ricky and I got to take a ride in the rumble seat.  That really was fun.  All three of us squeezed into a seat really meant for two but we were small enough that it wasn't a problem.  The rumble seat ride helped to salve my wounded pride from my humiliation in Aiken -- but only a little.


  1. Great story! My parents were too poor/cheap to buy nice new cars so whatever they were driving was embarrassing when I was a kid. This is in Detroit, too, where many people worked for the auto companies and got discounts on new cars that we didn't get. My mother finally got a new Ford Fairlane when she got her first teaching job, avocado green with black vinyl top, in the late sixties. It was so pretty. My father periodically bought VW Bugs, even though he was tall. It was hard to fit a family of four daughters and him into a Bug.

    I used to have a red plaid metal lunchbox back in the day. I think it came with a Thermos.

    My mother was a stay-at-home mom for years, and did a lot of cooking real meals and baking cakes and cookies. She was also a room mother when we were in elementary school, helping out with treats and stuff. She said recently that she thought I actually preferred store-bought cookies, because that's what I asked for whenever we had a school function. I don't remember that, but I probably thought at the time that the other kids preferred store-bought cookies instead of the homemade ones. Now I know that the kids really liked homemade cookies, and that not every mother was as handy in the kitchen as she was.

    Our parents were always so embarrassing to us, especially when we were teenagers. Other kids' parents were always way more cool. Thank goodness they grew out of that stage.

  2. I know what you mean! My mother was a stay-at-home mom, too, and always made cakes whenever we had any sort of function for school. It seems like every time we had a school carnival there was a 'cake-walk' and my mother's cakes always looked so nice that they were held back until later in the day.

    I had a very hard time finding a picture of a school satchel that looked like mine. The one pictured was the closest I could find. Mine had buckles on the front and had solid red with the plaid on it. I wore it out eventually. :P

  3. Oh, and I should mention that the four daughters in my family were so spread out in age from oldest to youngest that I was 12 before there were 4 girls in the car. :)

  4. That must have been nice. My mother had a baby a year for 4 years. I have no memory of life without 3 siblings (they were brats, too!).