The bright, blue Packard convertible takes center stage in the “home movie” of my parent’s wedding day. It is March of 1951, after the reception and my parents, in their honeymoon clothes, are running through a shower of rice to the Packard. My parents lovingly reminisced about that car with its power windows and leather interior, it was their luxurious honeymoon/newlywed car.
The 1948 (previously owned) Willys Jeep Station Wagon was added to the garage when my sister was born. My Mom would comment that the Jeep drove like a tank, great for ice and snow covered roads in winter. The Jeep was replaced immediately after my older brother released the emergency brake and the car rolled into traffic while my Mom was picking up the dry cleaning. I was sleeping in the baby car bed in the back seat as my brother and sister played “car” in the driver’s seat during my Mom’s five minute absence. The Wild West days before seat belts and car seats, passenger safety standards weren’t passed until 1978.
My Dad was on a business trip when my Mom bought the cherry red Pontiac station wagon. It was a sporty car with power steering and automatic transmission. My brother’s little car seat, with a steering wheel and a red plastic horn for honking, hung over the middle spot of the front, bench seat. Finally one child was corralled in the car. That winter, after a day of skiing, the brakes of the Pontiac “went out” on one of the “hairpin” curves going down the mountain. My Dad managed to safely drive the brake-less car that afternoon without any of us knowing of that harrowing decline.
A silver Buick Sport station wagon was the car in our “home movies” the summer we took a camper trailer to Yellowstone Park. Our first night at the trailer park, a family of bears opened the Coleman cooler on the picnic table and ate all of the deviled eggs, ham sandwiches, and brownies that my Mom had packed. We kept that red cooler with the “bear dents” on the top and sides, for decades. My parents discovered quickly that camping would be a one-time experience for our family. The camper didn’t have heat or a bathroom and it got into the 30’s that first night. We froze walking to the campground bathroom in the middle of the night, and by morning, the inside walls of the trailer had frost on them. We spent the rest of our Yellowstone vacation in a little motel that had both a bathroom and heat. The motel was situated in the woods, inviting long walks. We found pockets full of Indian arrowheads while out exploring those woods.
The Buick Vista Cruiser was our first car with air conditioning and a third seat. It was the perfect car for long road trips. We drove to New Mexico to visit family one blistering summer, staying cool in our car. We were guests at every Holiday Inn on the trip, perfect family motels. Great kid food, big swimming pools, and connecting rooms. The “home movies” of the trip to New Mexico include our cannonballs and flips into the pools, running around historic Mesa Verde in Colorado, and eating enchiladas in Old Town Albuquerque.
In 1970, my parents bought the ugliest copper colored Mercury station wagon. It was comfortable for a growing family of six and two St. Bernard’s. Both my older brother and I were in accidents in that car, sliding down steep, icy hills in winter, trying to stop. My Mom made me take that station wagon to college my first year, it had survived two accidents so my Mom deemed it the safest car for a seventeen year old coed. I managed to drive that car at a comfortable ninety miles an hour all over Wyoming and Colorado. It was perfect for drive-in movies and fit a load of skis, poles, and passengers, no problem.
The Packard was replaced by a green 1958 Renault Dauphine, then an aqua colored Renault Caravelle convertible. My Dad would pop off the hard top of the Caravelle and hang it on brackets on the garage wall. This “home movie” is of a Sunday morning in spring, in the Caravelle, top down, kids and Dad driving down the driveway, heading to church. My Dad loved convertibles. With a growing family, he traded the Caravelle for the roomier Ford Galaxy, his first car with automatic transmission. The Ford had “bucket” seats and the gearshift was on the floor between the seats.
In 1968, my Dad bought a Pontiac Le Mans convertible in a metallic green, with an eight track tape player and power windows. The center console held some of my Dad’s music favorites, Tom Jones and Neil Diamond. This would be my Dad’s final convertible but I drove that car everywhere in high school. Three girlfriends and I drove the Le Mans from Casper to Laramie to a basketball tournament in March of 1973. We hit a spring blizzard heading home, snow was blowing so hard that the windshield wipers stopped working and we had to pull over in Rock River. There was a solitary bar/gas station sitting close to the highway. Every single bar patron turned on their stool as my three friends and I, covered in snow, “blew” into the dimly lit bar looking for a phone. After a quick phone call home, we sat at the bar drinking Cokes and eating French fries, waiting out the storm. A two and a half hour trip took six hours that day.
With some money that my grandmother left me, I bought a Pontiac station wagon while living in Coronado, California. My three older children’s car seats (with seat belts) fit perfectly in the back. The eight track tapes in this car were Kenny Rogers and Bread. That car was a part of “home movies” at every beach on Oahu and school carpools.
A 1975 Volkswagen bus named Buttercup was the bane of my children’s existence in the drop off line at school. Their classmates called it a “clown car” and “the Sweet Pickles” bus. If it weren’t for the tiny stalling and heating problems, I’d still have that bus today. We have memories of “Buttercup” stalling on the Bay Bridge and in Route 50 summer traffic. My teenage children would jump out, push, I’d pop the clutch, they’d jump back in, and off we’d go. In winter, the children would snuggle in sleeping bags while scraping frost off of the windows.
Our next van was a Mitsubishi box that felt like it was going to blow over in strong winds. My husband and youngest son spent an icy afternoon in February, on Route 50, doing unintentional “donuts” until they landed safely in the median. They watched as their fellow travelers made icy landings inches away. An unforgettable three hour drive from Easton to Cambridge.
We then bought a Dodge Caravan, boring but warm, reliable, heavy, and comfy. We drove that van all over the east coast. We enjoyed our Jeep Wrangler, it was perfect for top down beach adventures and dried out quickly after a summer rainstorm. My husband became a pick up truck owner and loved hauling things. Furniture, mulch, bikes, you name it. It is true that if you own a truck, everyone asks to borrow it.
A beautiful Volkswagen van features prominently in a video as part of Stage Fright 1964. The clip was posted on the instagram page of @perfectstormstagecraft last week, which inspired this “walk down memory lane” of my family’s cars. Cars are such a huge part of our history.
“Everything in life is somewhere else, and you get there in a car.” -E.B. White
Kate Emery General is a retired chef/restaurant owner that was born and raised in Casper, Wyoming. Kate loves her grandchildren, knitting and watercolor painting. Kate and her husband , Matt are longtime residents of Cambridge’s West End where they enjoy swimming and bicycling.