I have no interest in cars beyond the A to B thing. The ones I have owned, I have driven hundreds of thousands of kilometres until they have collapsed from exhaustion. I rarely clean them myself. They have been handy hatches into which I have variously crammed, worldly goods when moving house, precious possessions when evacuating in disaster and on one occasion a load of soil mix which in hindsight was probably a mistake. Each transported a large hairy hound, sniffing into the breeze out the window or trying to lean forward to nuzzle her snout into my neck. There was the inevitable swirl of dog hair.
Understandably these revelations would provoke horror in any vehicle enthusiast.
So I had never been to a car show and had no particular desire to do so. But there I was at the Kurri Kurri Nostalgia Festival and stretched out around the streets the vehicles gleamed and their owners preened.
I was captivated. They were just so beautiful. Endless variations of shape and colour from so many different eras. Utes and hotrods, combies and sleek sports cars, station wagons and wannabe batmobiles . All that passion for them polished into shiny chrome, buffed into upholstery, and rubbed into warm knotted wood panelling.
The crowd took such obvious pleasure in them as parents pointed out memories to kids, and youths lusted over them, dreaming of their next car. I was just wandering and gazing, mostly enjoying watching everyone else taking such pleasure in it.
Then I spotted the VW ‘beetles’ of my childhood, and I was doing it too.
There’s the bug hole in which I hid at the drive-in when the evil queen in Snow White appeared.
There’s Boofo (BFO) and Denim (DNM). My sister and I are in the back seat of Boofo. We’ve been out grocery shopping with our mother and are munching fresh crusts from the just bought warm loaves of bread. There’s a steep hill on the drive home and we’re all chanting ‘I think I can..I think I can’ (from The Little Engine That Could) to help Boofo get up that hill. He makes it and we let out a cheer at the top.
I’m thinking of cars..the way I associate them with people and stages of my life ..with love and loss and intimacy and music. The exquisite small pleasure of getting into one on a sunny winters day, feeling like a cosseted plant in a greenhouse. The way even after you think you have dealt with the pain of break up a glimpse of a car just like his catches at your heart.
Warmed by the sun, I’m floating on my back in a glistening sea of fond memories.
Having watched it through my fingers in the 1970s..heard that ominous da.da da.da I should have realised what might come next.
For there it was…an old model Mercedes..very much like the one we were in when we had the accident. The large stately metal grill. The Mercedes symbol that could bend and swivel. The red leather upholstery.
The only reason we had it was that my maternal grandfather died a few years before. My grandmother had no use for it so it came to us.
This grandfather was a complicated man….straight and tough and wiry. His father, a brother aged 8 and a cousin aged 4 were killed when struck by a train. His own father worked as a fettler on the railways.
Here’s my great grandfather on the railway trolley he and the children were on when they were killed. The photo can’t have been taken long before. My grandfather was 14 when his father and brother and cousin died.
My grandfather supported his mother. He secured her a house. He got his family through the Depression. He was a survivor who could make anything and fix anything. He supposedly had a lump on his neck that he cut off himself and as well as working for the railways, sold used cars that would as like as not break down once they were out his gate.The uncomfortable truth though is that, often fuelled by alcohol, he terrorised his family. He was not a kind man. He took pleasure in the discomfort of others.
By the time I was visiting there as a child, things had settled but he remained a shadowy figure. He was always in full work overalls, with an aroma of grease and metal filings. Whenever we were there he seemed to be down in his shed. I don’t remember ever seeing him smile. There was a back paddock full of old cars wound through with tendrils of kikuyu.
The Mercedes was his pride and joy.
That car, solid and substantial as it was, still couldn’t protect my mother from what happened to her, but it probably saved our lives. It didn’t roll or flip. If it had, we would most likely be dead. In the early morning, half asleep on the broad red leather seats in the back I felt it take the impact. In the haze of shock it seemed to slide slow and sure to a stop.
In that sense, I owe that car, every moment I have lived, since.