I know it was a '39 Chevy coupe, but not from memory, only from the stories I've heard. The thing I do remember is its color: green. And its shape. I remember its smooth roundness. I just Googled 1939 Chevrolet coupe and it's exactly as I picture it. I suppose even as a toddler I found its shape pleasing. I still do.
I've been thinking about that car because I've been thinking about my dad. Had he lived, he would have turned 98 on Saturday, Oct. 12. I cannot explain why, but I always thought it cool that my dad was born on Columbus Day, especially when I was a kid.
My dad died in 1994, a few days after Christmas. We knew it was coming but still I cried uncontrollably when I got the phone call from my sister. When the doctor told him he had lung cancer, he said, "I haven't smoked in 20 years." "But the 30 that you did caused this," the doctor said. Like many of his generation, Dad got his Lucky Strikes with his C-rations. I can still see him with an unfiltered Camel in his mouth and a full ashtray of butts on the table next to him. He was just 73 when it caught up to him, a figure I am closing in on fast.
My dad and I were close, but it wasn't until after he died that I really got to know him. That's because my mom was lonely and needed someone to talk to. Newly divorced, I did too. Often she'd talk about the early days of their marriage, things I knew little or nothing about. Like the '39 Chevy.
The photos of those cars on my computer screen look awesome. I wish I had one today. But the reality, the picture my mom painted, was not pretty. I was perhaps 2 or 2-and-half when my dad brought the car home. That meant my brother was an infant and my sisters 3 and 5. If you wonder why people my age are called "Baby Boomers," there's your answer.
The car was 12 or 13 years old and apparently showing its age. The floor on the passenger side was rusted right through, Mom said. Dad covered the hole with folded cardboard which, according to Mom, was not much of a help in winter. She'd sit in the front holding her newborn while the three of us crowded into the back, which was another story all together. The back, she explained, had two seats with a gap between them. A gap just big enough for dad to cram in one of our kitchen chairs. That was my spot. Forget car seats. Seatbelts wouldn't even be the law for another 40 years.