I remember hearing the tale of a car accident my parents had before I was born. I’m sure the details of the car, the location, where they were going and how the accident was caused, and why my mother was driving were given, but I only remember the ongoing argument that would bubble up whenever the story was told.
This was an accident before airbags, anti-lock brakes, impact absorbing bumpers and a second-nature habit of putting on a seatbelt in the car. My mother always insisted that the injuries she received from the accident were worse because of my father’s actions, and the root cause of the residual whiplash symptoms she still suffered with. My father insisted that had he not stuck his hand out, and shielded some of the inevitable blow of my mother’s face coming in contact with the steering wheel, she would have broken her nose, lost her front teeth and been much worse off. He had a small scar on his left hand which he claimed were the result of his heroic, teeth saving, actions.
I remember my father’s van: the old style van with bench seating that wrapped around the back like a restaurant booth, and not a seatbelt in sight. A table could be screwed into the floor, adding the image. Given today’s standards for safety, I cannot imagine how anyone could find this a safe way to travel. Besides the lack of seat belts, the cushions on the bench seating were mere slabs of foam covered in coarse fabric like that of an outdoor patio set. I can only imagine that even the slightest of bumps would send the anyone sitting in those seats flying, without much to hold on to.
My mother had made curtains and cushion covers in matching fabric, mud brown loosely woven, with a row of tiny white, simply stitched four-petaled flowers. Course brown string ran horizontally through the weave, while thin clear threads ran vertically to keep it all together, making it seem from a distance that it was merely brown string stacked on top of each other. I remember disliking the fabric for its ugliness, being intrigued by its design, and grossed out by the waxy film on the backside of the fabric.
I remember playing in this van when it was parked deep in the backyard, and referring to is as my clubhouse, and deeply saddened when it was eventually removed from the yard. I have no memory, however, of actually riding in this van.
When I was around the age of 10, my Dad had a dull grey ford, which was always needing repair. I have many memories of being bored in the car, while my dad had this car pulled into one of his buddies driveways, hood wide open, while my dad and his friends peered into the engine to fix whatever might be broken today. Another time I was left alone in the car, my father was inside the beer store. Curious, and bored, I pulled the gear shifter from park into neutral, and the car started to roll backwards in the parking lot. A lady just leaving her car parked beside us saw the rolling car and ran inside to get my dad. Before my dad left the beer store, I had managed to get the car put back into the park, and stop the rolling. My dad came out, and even though I was still scared, he did not ask if I was ok, he just told me I was an asshole. And then went back in to buy his beer. My mother thought the story was funny.
Around this same time, my father was hunting for a used car for my mom. My mother’s only stipulation was that it was not green; green being her arch nemesis at the time it would seem. My father did find one, a good deal, running well, but of course, it had to be green. My mother hated that green chevy impala, except for the fact that it had ‘balls’. One morning, on her way to work, a man ran a stop sign and hit my mom’s car full speed. She had to be cut out of the vehicle, but my mother survived. I remember my mother being off work for a while with her injuries, needing weekly trips to the doctor and to physical therapy. The car accident case dragged on in court because the driver of the vehicle did not have insurance. Only my mother was in the car on the day of the accident, however, both myself, my brother and my father were awarded money due to the suffering we had to endure with my mom being a bitch while she recovered. I don’t know what happened to that money, but I know it wasn’t there when it was time for me to go to college. After that accident, my mother never kept a job for very long.
After my parents separated, we went without a car for a long time. Somehow my mother managed to get some money together for a car, a small blue one, she named “Freedom”, which I didn’t fully understand at the time. I don’t remember any burden of not owning a car, nor do I remember any such freedom arriving once we did own a car. I do remember, however, making long trips to visit her friends in various remote places, and stuffing that little car to the max.
Around this time, McDonald’s was selling stuffed Garfield the cat toys dressed in various Christmas costumes at the time, and my mother had a version of this toy dressed as an angel. This toy became the mascot of the car and was moved on to ‘Freedom 2” when her Uncle gave her money to buy a station wagon.