Column, Looking Back

Looking Back: The cars in my life

by Mary Ellen Shaw

As I was visiting with friends recently the conversation turned to the cars we have had over the years. For most of us at the table the earliest memories went back to the 1950s.

I remember going to look at cars with my parents in 1952. I was 8 years old and like all kids had no interest in being there. The car salesman, Mr. McClure, did his best to keep me entertained as my parents discussed the pros and cons of getting a four-door Plymouth.

He asked me about school and apparently my side of the conversation was all about the nuns and what they wore. I was fascinated with the habits worn by the Sisters of St. Joseph. They wore full length black tunics with white bibs.  Only their faces and hands were visible. Talking about school kept me occupied as my parents did the paperwork that went with ordering a pale green Plymouth. When it arrived I went with them to pick it up. In the back seat of our new car was a doll dressed in a nun’s habit. I was in seventh Heaven! Mr. McClure said his wife made clothes for dolls and after telling her about my conversation with him she wanted me to have that doll. I got into the back seat to play with my new “nun friend” while my parents took care of business. There wasn’t a peep out of me on the way home!

Our next car was a 1956 red and white Plymouth. It had fins on the back and whitewall tires. Apparently my parents did not want to drive a bland color car as proven in their choices of green in ’52 and red in ’56.

I don’t know why the last car was traded after just three years but in 1959 a Chevy Bel Air arrived. True to my parents’ love of color, this car was turquoise blue with a white roof. The fins seemed gigantic and it barely fit in our garage. The cellars of many houses on our street were also considered to be garages. The cars were parked right next to the furnace. In this day and age that seems like a really bad idea! But all the working men on our street drove their cars into the cellar for the night. Thankfully there wasn’t a fire from any of the furnaces or we would have been blown to bits!

Like just about every car from that era, all of ours were standard shift. When the mid-60s rolled around I was ready to get my license. My lessons were on automatic transmission so the first car I bought on my own had just that. I made the purchase in 1966 when I got a teaching position right after college. I chose a pale yellow Camaro with a black vinyl roof and bucket seats. I remember Mary Ellen Ryan, driving my car down from her dad’s dealership in Brandon. She seemed as excited with my choice as I was.

I must have had a heavy foot on the gas pedal back then even when I was in the school parking lot. One of the students, who could often be found out back waiting for a ride, would holler, “Burn the rubber, Miss Whalen.” I probably did!

Eventually my mother ended up with my Camaro and I think it terrified her. She drove at the speed of a snail so I attached a bumper sticker that read, “Don’t honk. I’m pedaling as fast as I can.” Good sport that she was, it stayed there!

I have to say my choice of cars has been anything but exciting over the past 30 years. My ’90 Toyota a Corolla had been a drivers’ education car at Proctor High School and I kept that for 16 years. In 2006 I traded it for a Corolla that had been a customer loan car for a dealership. Both of those cars had less than 6,000 miles on them.

I am the type who only gets a new car when the money I spend on repairs makes me think it’s time. So when you see me driving around in my 2006 Corolla you will know that the time hasn’t come yet.  I probably won’t know how to drive my next car. The days of fobs and distracting dashboard monitors hadn’t arrived when I bought my last car. And guess wha? I am doing just fine without either one! Give me a metal key and a road map and I will get where I need to go, eventually!

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