RIDING THROUGH LIFE IN MY CARS
My head is a repository of the past.
My head is jamm'd with receptacles that house these memories.
One of the primary storage places are the cars that have transported me over the past years.
These storage boxes remain tightly sealed until a day like today comes along.
I am home alone.
The house is quiet.
I am sitting by a window through which I can see foliage of the trees lazily riding the breeze. Little else can be seen from where I sit. I am inside the house because it is too humid outside. My work in the garden will have to wait. I have loaded my stereo with compact disks and with nothing to disrupt me, I close my eyes. I expected sleep to come quickly, instead, my mind awakens. The strains of Pachelbel's, "Canon" throws my mind into memory mode. One by one the cars parked in my brain start up.
The battery of my first car is good because the car sputters immediately to life. This car, a green 1952 Plymouth, is soon clinging to the winding roads that wend from Mountain City to Banner Elk. Many of its trips home are past midnight. Sometimes the roads are banked with snow. Always they are too narrow to safely pass an oncoming car. Soon the car was whisking around the university campus where the lass from Banner Elk was a student. That courtship cooled before the car did. The car carried me to Brookside in the drab inner-city of Knoxville where I became a fledgling church pastor. Later, it left the roadways of Tennessee and carted me each weekend from the Emory University campus to two little country churches in North Georgia where I honed my pastoring skills at the expense of small town parishioners. It was at the church at Silver Creek, where the train track lay just outside the churchyard, where elderly Maude Hull shouted to me as I preached, "Will you stop speaking until the train gets past. I want to hear how the story ends."
My mind parked the green Plymouth and started up the 1954 Pontiac. I hoped the battery was dead in that car because it drove me over some of the most troublesome roads over which I have travelled. These were my commuting years to seminary during which time I was permanently financially strapped. I quickly killed the engine on the Pontiac.
My 1956 two-tone blue Dodge was a sight to behold. Rear fins gave it class. Soon, a car seat was added to allow Wesley to take recreational jaunts with me. Later, a second car seat was added. The car had mischievously passed the turnoff to the hospital in Chattanooga which resulted in Karen being born before I got to the waiting room. Soon, the beautiful blue Dodge would uproot us to the coalfields of Virginia. If the car had lips it would have smiled because these became happy days. (It's windshield wiper has wiped away the unpleasant memories, for there were some.) Holidays found us touring the Canadian countryside, West Virginia valleys, forays to Knoxville, and visits to homeplaces, but mainly it stayed close to home where it could often be found at the doorways of church member homes. Good friendships developed.
On our way to Mountain City to visit my parents, the brakes gave way and I maneuvered the car to my parents front door where I killed the motor and heaved a sigh of relief. The next day we went shopping for a new car. When Wesley and Karen looked out their bedroom window the next morning it was a white Chevrolet Impala to which their eyes went.
A third car seat was added to the Impala. It brought Mike home from the hospital. Later that year it carried us out of the highlands of Virginia to the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains.
The music from the stereo has now changed to the second movement from Dvorak's "New World Symphony." It's plaintive notes change the mood of my thoughts. I start remembering people rather than things. While driving my Oldsmobile Cutlass from the "little Cathedral in the Smokies" to the ridges and valleys of the Great Smokies, I stopped to alight from my car and stroll with many. There was the group of retired men with whom I met each Friday at noon to lunch together. Each of these had stories to tell as each came from a different background and from scattered places. It was they who took me on my first horseback ride on the mountain trails. They gave me the horse which bucked. My life was forever enhanced by my strolls with Robert Thomas, missionary doctor to the primitive Smokies, Charles Laymon with whom I shared theological dialogue and Terrell Tanner, a modern-day doctor to the modern Smokies. We became a kind of eclectic clique which quickly bonded. Such memories include my participating at the funerals of two of these. It was a Chevrolet Caprice that replaced the Cutlass. The Caprice served me well until a call to my Chattanooga church study from a nearby mechanic informed me he had burned up my car. It had caught fire on the service rack. That gave me an opportunity to buy a sporty Monte Carlo. That was the car that sported Wesley to Oxford College, Karen to the University of Tennessee, and, after we came to Johnson City, Mike to Oxford College. It was the car that carried us to Camelot, our mountain chalet, and became a link to the golden years of Gatlinburg. It was in that car that we carried the ashes of the children's mother to her rest under the elms of Woodlawn cemetery.
Here, I bought my Cressida. Seventeen years and three hundred thousand miles later it is still my car and carrying with it memories still in the making. Brad did not ride the Cressida home from his place of birth as did Wesley, Karen and Mike. I carried him home in my arms, but it wasn't long until he had his own car seat. This is the car that carried Carlene and me away to our honeymoon with drawings of St. Francis and a duck peering from the back window.
These cars have passed many landscapes, carried many passengers, and drank up a lot of gas.
It's interesting that a lifetime of living can be reposited in a succession of cars. It's unsettling to know that with the exception of my Cressida, these all are rusting away in some junk yard.
That's enough to lift my nostalgia!
by Rev. J. Vance Eastridge, July, 2000. http://eastridges.com/vance