Sunday, March 30, 2008


It’s ironic that the topic for the next Carnival of Genealogy
should be about the cars in our families’ histories. I’ve just
had my present car, a 1992 Ford Taurus, repaired and boy,
did it put a dent in my wallet. It’s not that I’m attached to
the thing or that I’m an aficionado of the old Ford Taurus
cars, mind you. It’s more a case of not finding a dependable
used car with an affordable price that I could buy to replace
it, so the money went into repairing the Taurus instead.

My family has always had a love/hate relationship with cars.
My Dad was the only one of us who understood the mechanics
of how a car runs and what needed to be done to keep them
running. He learned to drive while still in his teens in an old
Model A or Model T on the dirt roads up home in Maine.
Over the years we went through a succession of used cars
because of family finances such as when Mom and Dad
bought the house in Abington. The one car that they bought
brand new was a 1956 red and black colored Oldsmobile `98
which lasted us until just before my brother was born.

The first memory I have of one of our cars was watching Dad
drive a late 1940’s model Pontiac in the wake of a motorboat
down the flooded Beach Street in Malden. It was after one of
the hurricanes of the mid 1950’s and Dad was working at
Atlas Engineering in Roxbury but made it home anyway.
The Pontiac was one of those big old time cars with a high
engine block and by following along behind the boat he made
it right into the driveway. One of the neighbor kids pointed at
it and called it “Mr. West’s submarine!”

When we moved out of the city to the “suburbs” (as Dad
called them) and there was no public transportation handy it
became necessary to become a two (and eventually four) car
family and with house payments and then a new baby, buying
a new car was not affordable. Dad liked GM cars so most of
the cars would be Oldsmobiles, Buicks, or Chevys, and some
of those cars were characters in themselves. There were the
two mid 1950’s Chevy Bel-Airs. One of them was green and
white and supposedly had been owned by a nurse but had a
tiger decal and a skull with eyes that lit up in the rear window.
The other was the one I called the “Butterscotch Bomber”
because its color was sort of a butterscotch pudding yellowish
orange. That was the car Dad was driving the day my kid
brother was born. Dad threw Mom’s bag into the car but
nearly drove off without her as she stood yelling at him from
the back door.

I’m not sure which of the two was the car Dad was driving
when he and I drove up to Maine to see his father. I do recall
the drive home where the brakes weren’t working very well
as we came down through the Notch and Dad used the road’s
shoulder to help keep the speed down.

Then there was the Buick some years later that we were in
during a vacation trip. We were on the way to a White House
tour when the right front wheel well started smoking and
we spent a few hours in a garage while wheel bearings were
replaced. We missed the tour.

When I finally got my driving license I followed the family
tradition. My first car was a used Olds `98, and when I
replaced that it was with a Pontiac Bonneville with twin
mufflers. I’ve never forgotten that second car, because it
seemed liked those mufflers took turns falling off. I think
those are illegal now. If they had been back then it would
have been much easier on my bank account!

Then there was my Chevy pickup truck. This was back in the
mid to late 1970’s and when I needed a new car Dad went
along with me to check out the choices. I’ve always suspected
his pointing out the truck had ulterior motives since soon
after I bought it I was hauling seaweed and chicken manure
in it for the garden compost pile!

I was driving that truck during the Blizzard of `78 when a
normal10 minute drive became an adventure. Our dogs Sam
and Gigi (Don’t ask. West Family pets are an epic in and of
themselves.) liked to ride in it although in Sam’s case it was
sometimes a case of running along behind it. But my most
vivid memory of that truck was how the left side panel of the
truck bed rusted away and when I took left hand turns it
would sway out. Or the truck gate fell off.

And once, the tire fell out. Luckily it was on the long access
road from Route 37 down to the warehouse where I was
working at the time. It flew out and rolled back down the
whole length of that road in a straight line. One of my
coworkers was leaving work with his wife and family at the
time when the tire came rolling by his car. He told me his
three year old applauded and wanted the tire to do it

For all the clunkers and all the adventures we’ve had with
cars, we’ve been extremely fortunate as a family that any
accidents we’ve had were not serious ones.

But I’ve oftimes thought that maybe our ancestors had it
better with their horses than we do today with our cars.
After all, for all their advances in technology, cars today can’t
produce a new model for their owners every few years or so
like a horse could!

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