Tuesday, October 6, 2009

My Dad And His Cars

Every Father's Day I have the most difficult time selecting a card for Dad. My dad isn't and wasn't into fishing. He's not a golfer. He pretends to care about baseball simply to keep up with current events. He's never been a remote control monopolizer, which rules out those cards with a funny-faced balding man gripping a beer and remote. The cards with a smiling dad wearing a funny hat and apron, manning the grill also wasn't my dad. Nope, my dad was all about fixing up cars.

He ran the auto shop and driver ed classes at his school before becoming a department chairman years later. Most weekends, Dad could be found laying under a random foreign car while Mom cleaned the house and prepared dinner. My job as dinner informant, required me to venture out to the garage and let him know it was time to wash his hands and come in.

"Macaroni and meatballs are ready, Daddy. Did you know that I'm really sick of macaroni?" I'd say to two coverall-clad legs stuck out from under the latest old Porsche or VW he was restoring. Dad's hands would get super greasy from working on cars. He always used this special waxy cleanser to scrub his hands before coming into the house. Mom would point out how Dad always managed to use the "good" towels in the process.

Unless he was working on a friend's car, Dad never seemed to be a fan of American cars. Sure, my mom always drove an American car (before Honda and Nissan were popular) but not Dad. Every few months, he had a different VW, Mercedes or Porsche. There were always different cars in our garage or driveway and I loved investigating them.

I'd open the glove compartment and go through the backseat and trunk, checking to see if the original owners left anything behind. I'd pretend to drive them. Sometimes I'd  just sit in them for a few minutes and wonder about the previous owners.

We once had a VW camper. I don't think we had it for very long. I invited a friend over to spend the night. We were going to camp out in the driveway. We had a blast -- even dined atop the foldout table and played a few rounds of Chutes and Ladders. Once darkness fell, we were convinced a bear would attack us, so we slipped back into the house. My parents laughed at us. They hadn't heard of many bear sightings in our neighborhood, which had more concrete than grass and trees. But hey, I was a kid, what did I know?

I absolutely adored going for rides around town with my family in the summer. Many of Dad's cars were convertibles. He'd proudly show off the results of his latest fixer-upper at a local free summer concert or to go get ice cream. There are so many old photos of me posing in front of his latest car of the month. Typically after a few weeks, we'd have to say goodbye to the vehicles. That was the challenging part for me.

One little red convertible VW Bug was my favorite. I remember my dad showing it to a prospective buyer. He told her how it purred like a kitten and described all of the updates he had made. For the first time ever, I decided not this time. Not this car. I stepped in and said something like, "Listen lady, you don't want this car. It's just not good for you. It stinks. Really." They both laughed and my dad shooed me away, explaining to her how I had become very attached to that particular vehicle. The convertible bug was soon sold.

Going through my mom's photo albums today, there are dozens of pictures of German cars from the '70s and '80s setting the backdrop of our first days of school or a BBQ in the yard. There are pictures of my mom and brother helping wash a car in the driveway and others of my dad happily leaning against his machine of the moment. There's a green bug, an orange bug, a silver Porsche, a yellow Porsche, the list goes on... Today my dad only owns about three cars now and he's promised to let us drive his 1992 convertible Mercedes when we visit him next month in Florida.

My little brother in my fave red convertible Bug.

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