Despite the most severe damage to my life’s memories by my long-lost foe, alcohol, one of the memories that has stuck firmly in an anxious sort of visual way is one particular ride in and my image of Dad’s blue Oldsmobile convertible from some year in the 60’s. I am not positive it was an Oldsmobile, but it seems likely (despite the fact that right at the moment I cannot imagine GM making an Oldsmobile convertible), and I know it was 60’s sometime because I was five-years old when I had the ride that sticks to the very front of all of my cultural and ethical sensitivity.
Perspective is odd. To this day, I do not think that a car has ever been made in such a beautiful shade of blue. It was the blue with tinges of many things: cool temperature, metals, grays, coal sparkles, shine like no shine, and it was perhaps like the most rare and beautiful color of sky, a shade that might only be witnessed once every few years. Now, I wonder if it was that beautiful, but I cannot deny the truth of my memory. When I think of denying the truth of memory, I remember as an adult going to the neighborhood I grew up in from the age of three until the age of twelve, and discovering the houses were now less than half the size that they were when I was a child. This was the neighborhood where I learned how to be a boy, where I rode my first motocross mini motorcycle, courtesy of my uncle and rammed it full speed into the brick wall of the family room, causing Mother to come out with the dog, Nicholas, who was barking frantically, screaming, Mother was, that I was not allowed to ride anymore until I got a helmet, where I learned the most wicked games of hide and seek, crawling through bushes which were used as an escape when a friend and I burned down the teenaged neighbor’s clubhouse fort that looked like a den for Led Zeppelin fans, accidentally and not as pyromaniacs (playing with matches indeed but the carpets and blankets and posters were so richly embedded, the fire inextinguishable regardless of our furious patting), where I learned how to lie directly as a result of the fire, where I learned how to play hockey and fight with weapons on Albert’s hockey rink, where we invented our own game of sockey for summer months, which was just as violent because we used our sticks and what seemed like steel-toed tennis shoes, and where I learned so many other boy things. When I was a child, I thought we lived in the finest mansion or even castle of British Royalty, but as an adult, the house looked like a tiny English tutor, glamorous but tiny. Even the yards were tiny, making me terribly sad, but I am sure I was working to spot Mile High Stadium without the rackety metal stands. I remember thinking then that my adult eyes were deceiving me in the most aggravating and painful fashion and that my childhood memories were far more accurate. This same sequence of denial and acceptance might happen if I could see that blue Oldsmobile today. I am afraid to ask Dad if it was as beautiful as I remember because I am sure his memory will be adult-like and it could possibly spoil mine. One time I saw a beautiful woman wearing a blouse the same color, and I recall thinking that this was a terrible reason for love at first sight, though I have had worse reasons.
One of my favorite things to do was to go to McDonald’s with Dad and my brother, David. Unfortunately, these brand things stick with you, but at this time, I cannot decipher why I loved those trips so much. I want to believe that it was a chance for David and me to eat a meal with our dad without the formal accoutrements of Mother’s dining room or even those of her breakfast room. I am positive Mother never stepped into a McDonald’s (being equally positive that this was not the cause of her too-early death), nor do I ever remember her stepping into any fast food restaurant, and God forbid that she would go through anyone’s drive-through for anything.
David is three years younger than I. I picked on him frequently when we were young (which if I contemplate for too long makes me feel terribly guilty, seeming as though it was the normal brother stuff, though I remember we hurt each other, the battles seeming to get physically brutal, and now knowing more than I did then, knowing that David is not well-situated for verbal or physical beatings, even if it is brotherly competition, thinking that I must be part of the reason that David cannot smile much now but he could not stop smiling when he was a young boy – bottom of the barrel, unimaginable guilt, but we were all doing our best), working to be the instigator in a silent way, but Dad always knew exactly what the facts were, as if he were the blind-folded Lady Justice. Dad never hit us. He would reach across my brother and grab my biceps as if it were a pencil in his grasp, and he would squeeze enough to make it so nothing else could interfere with my panic. I would beg and plead in some way and he would let go and say something about how I should behave in the future. Other than those brief moments, I remember our car rides as joyous events.
The best times were when we would go out to an old road by the airport and park on the side next to the runway used for landings. We would sit on the hood of the car and Dad would give us sporting binoculars and we’d watch the big birds come in, the actual first contact with the ground about even with our spot, and each time those tires hit, we did not miss the black tire smoke escaping out behind the plane as if it were a flock of evil geese. Dad taught us how to identify all of the different kinds of larger jets. You cannot imagine how good it felt to be so smart about airplanes, knowing exactly what type of plane we might be watching overhead or knowing what kind of plane we might be boarding. Other kids might know that you were talking about a jet when you said “727,” but we could draw a picture of one.
I recall most of our rides being in the white car with a solid roof (this was after Ralph Nader fouled up freedom the first time) and it was definitely a Ninety-Eight, but the ride I remember best was in that blue convertible.
We were riding in the tunnel that is 6th Avenue, misnamed because it is a parkway. There are two lanes going each direction with about 50 yards of park separating the two directions. Both sides were so heavily tree-lined that you might think it was well after dusk even at high noon as it was on the day in question. I remember looking at those trees and the park and imagining that the trees were so tall that they must have been planted long before the car was invented. When you’re 5, you can’t imagine the number of years it takes oaks to grow to 60 feet – They might as well have been there forever.
The wind was blowing nicely as it should on a hot day in the convertible. I remember a feeling of complete and utter freedom, saluting the spaciousness of life and nature, a feeling I might have only had one other time since then. We came up to a stop light that was placed in the middle of a block and was presumably placed for the pedestrian who was never there, but it was always red, the light was. We were second in line behind a tiny red sports car – I think it must have been a TR6 but I am not so sure it was really red. I remember that my brother and I were dressed in these matching, plaid overalls with white button down shirts, buttoned to the top, with navy blue knee socks and saddle shoes. This seems hardly likely, but this is how Mother dressed us for pictures, so maybe I am damaged by that memory, but I am sure we were a handsome pair of boys, and I am positive we were smiling because in those days, before we were ruthlessly spoiled in our own ways, we smiled all of the time. I know Dad had his flip shades down, had a touch of grease in his hair, and was wearing a button down without the bow tie and a keen pair of plaid pants with his white socks and loafers. Freedom. It was all freedom in the dark tunnel and monstrous dark green trees that had lived forever and would never die, the trees, not the freedom.
The light turned green and the little TR6 went, Dad hit the gas modestly, and boom, the guy stalled his TR6, Dad slammed on the brakes at the same time he extended his arm to keep David and me belted to our seats. Dad’s arm was a fantastic seat belt before we used the fabric ones, but he could not restrain our shoulders, so my head popped the dash lightly. I remember looking at Dad, thinking I ought to cry, but the care of his face made me smile. David was fine too. Then I thought about the poor guy in the TR6, thinking he must be smashed, but when I looked, he was way up the road, apparently unconcerned. I have to remember that this was a time when the bumpers worked, probably before Ralph wormed his way into the bumper industry and each incidental bump became a two thousand dollar experience at the body shop.
I have long wondered what made me stay so affixed to this memory. I believe that it is a symbol for a happy time, when the largest concern was trying to figure out how long ago the trees were planted, when running into someone else’s car was not that big of a deal partly because everyone was out for a “Sunday drive” on every day of the week in those days, the speeds were slower and the tempers were longer, when driving in a car could mean a breeze through your hair and perhaps through your mind (the constant pampering of our cell phones have eradicated the breeze thing), and back in the time when there was a car paint more beautiful than any other paint you will ever see unless you count the occasional success of the creator in our vast sky.