July 29, 2018
I began this post on May 21. I was endeavoring to use prompts to help me shape my characters. I use A Writer’s Book of Days, by Judy Reeves. This one is probably from the first edition, a well-worn volume on rough paper the texture of heavy newsprint. Its corners are blunted and the plastic coating on the cover cracked. I’ve used it intermittently for more than fifteen years. Prompts don’t become useless. They can elicit something new every time.
What came of the prompt:
My first car was actually the family’s second car, but purchased for my use to get me back and forth to my classes at the local community college. Going there instead of “sleepaway school” was not my choice, it was my mother’s. She wanted to maintain control over me for as long as she could. A week after we got it, I went out to a shopping center to buy a desk lamp. When I returned, my father informed me that the car was only for getting back and forth to school, not for “gallivanting.” I call all of my trips now to writers’ conferences and readings and such “gallivants.”
It was a turquoise 1965 Corvair, the car that would later be labeled “unsafe at any speed.” The engine was in the back and the trunk was in the front. It had no parking gear. The shift lever was on the dash. You put it in Neutral and then reached down to pull up a hand brake.In the summer of ’66, on my way to work at a hotel dining room, I turned my head to look at an Italian restaurant that one of my coworkers had made a rude joke about. I rear-ended the car in front of me, and the empty front end folded up like an accordion. The driver of the car I hit was pregnant. That child would be 52 now, the same age as the person who would become my stepson 17 years later. His father was working in that restaurant that day. His family owned it.
In the spring of 1967 I fell on the stairs at school, bouncing down a long flight on the end of my spine. Likely I broke my coccyx. The remedy was to wait for it to heal. Pulling on the hand brake was painful. I had to reach around with my left hand while keeping my foot on the brake pedal, and opening the door so I could put my legs out and lean over better.
In the fall of 1968, after I had gone to a residential college, my sister was allowed to use the car to go back and forth to high school. One night, coming back from a basketball game, she plowed into a tree while trying to adjust the radio. If you look closely, you can still see flecks of turquoise paint from the steering wheel embedded in her lip. The front end was too mangled to repair, and we said goodbye.
I loved that car.
That was seven cars ago. There followed then the Impala that was the big brother of the Corvair, transferred to me when I graduated from college. A Vega that I loved that took me to Vermont for my first sojourns there. Then a Volare that stayed on the road longer than it should have because one of my students, a Moparhead, loved it and worked on it for free if I supplied the parts. Then he graduated and moved away, the odometer rolled over 100,000 miles, and the dealership I trusted closed. Corolla #1 took its place, then Corolla #2. I drive a 2014 Corolla now. It just passed 60,000 miles. It is probably my last new car.
On July 11 I was visiting my daughter and my grandsons. Joey, just turned two, and I were sitting together in the driveway. Well, I was sitting. He was drawing with chalk on the driveway, and the garage floor, and the garage walls (inside), and keeping up a steady stream of sounds and syllables that had the cadences of conversation. It sounded like a classroom lecture. He had already made my day by recognizing me though I hadn’t seen him in two months, and, for the first time, saying my name. “Maimeo,” he said. I melted.
He looked out to the curb. “That car is red,” he said.
“Yes it is,” I responded. “That is my car.”
We walked over to it, and I showed him the license plate: MAGY-MA. He knows a lot of letters, and likes to say them. “That is my name,” I said. At that same age, his mother had learned that T-O-Y-O-T-A spelled Toyota. She also thought that I-S-U-Z-U spelled Toyota. Phonics came later. It will for Joey, too.
I left while Joey was taking his nap. When he woke, he said, “Where is Maimeo?”
Later, he pointed to the place where my car had been parked. “Maimeo has a red car,” he said. (I should mention that the first time his mother strung sentences together into a narrative was to tell a neighbor, “I see Grover. He give me red balloon. Mommy let it fly away.”)
I am taking the red car to see him, and his two-month-old brother Jonny, again tomorrow. And maybe once more before I point it toward Vermont for my twentieth sojourn on the mountain.
And so we begin again.