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Bonnie Brown: The Nostaglia for One's First Car

How many of you remember your first car? I’m sure you all do. The first car is a milestone. Back in the day, parents didn’t hand over keys and a car to their teen driver. You had to earn your first ride. After all, if you didn’t, you were doomed to drive the family car. In my case, that was pretty cool since my dad was going through a mid-life crisis and had purchased a first-generation Plymouth Barracuda with 4 on the floor and a wrap-around back window. It was white with red interior. Really cool. My mom was furious! After all, she was driving a much older car that we had dubbed the Gray Ghost.

Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company—Our Story (Company Timeline)

I bought my car, a 64 Chevy II, for $425. My car payment was $42 each month. I learned at an early age with my first job (babysitting and tutoring my cousins), that I had to be mindful of how far my paycheck would stretch. My 15-year-old self had a job working at an ice cream store. I made $18.05 each week. My dad said the nickel was for the parking meter giving me 30 minutes to spend the other $18. With almost every purchase since those early days, I calculate how many hours I had to work to earn enough for the purchase I was about to make. I still do. When I purchased my new washer and dryer a few months ago, they cost nearly 3 times what I paid for my first car!
I believe that Henry Ford built his first automobile, the Quadricycle, in his shed behind his house simply because he wanted to get out of earshot of his wife. He probably said something like “I’m working on something out in the shed.” And when he got out there, the first thing he saw was 4 bicycle tires and was committed to building something using the materials available.
It used to be that new cars debuted in early fall. It was a big deal. I remember going to town with my dad to see the new models. Keep in mind, there weren’t many. It was still only a Ford, Chevy, Chrysler, Dodge, Oldsmobile, Cadillac world. Not a lot of different colors but still exciting to see the latest and most popular models.
We all have a love affair with our automobile. Many of us even name our car. It is a status symbol, something that we love to show off and want to be admired. It’s also the second most expensive purchase we’ll make, second only to owning a house. We hold our cars dear. It makes sense. You can’t move your house around to impress, but you can certainly flaunt your pricey, pretty, fast, luxurious vehicle at the next reunion, football game, or visit to the in-laws.
I got called for jury duty once and was questioned if I knew the plaintiff. My response was that while I didn’t know him, I had bought a used car from a local dealership that he had previously owned. I was asked if that would prevent me from applying the law to the facts of the case. What? Yes, cars are that important in our culture.
Many years ago, when my grandsons Bennett and Andrew were riding in my car, a 1996 Mercury Grand Marquis, one of them asked me how old my car was. It was interesting that they would ask that question. I know they didn’t particularly like my car because unlike their mother’s SUV, they couldn’t see out very well and my windows were not tinted. Both complained about the lack of these features in my car. I counted up and responded that it was 14 years old. Bennett said “Granny, your car is a teenager. You need a new car.” I didn’t want a new car. I liked my comfortable car and I was used to it. Within a week or two after that, my husband asked me if I should think about getting a new car. When I responded that I wasn’t interested, he said he was afraid I’d be calling him from the side of the road when I had car trouble. Pfft! I replied, thus ending the conversation.
Almost as he’d predicted, I happened to be in Memphis when, sure enough, my car quit. I managed to get off the street and pulled into a nearby parking lot. My first call was to my roadside assistance provider explaining where I was. My second call was to my dear friend and mechanic of more than 30 years, Bub Brannan. It was late afternoon and when I explained what was going on and where I was, Bub volunteered to drive up and rescue me. I told him I just wanted a diagnosis of what could be wrong with my car. He gave me a couple of instructions and guesses as to what the problem might be. My THIRD call was to my sweet husband to tell him I’d be a little delayed. By the time the roadside assistance wrecker appeared, my car was running once again and I decided to chance driving it home.
Let’s be grateful to Henry Ford and others who have provided us with transportation, recreation, and in some cases, livelihood. And they carry the most precious cargo—our children, grandchildren, spouse, friends, and family members.
And yes, I did buy a new car. My “new” car is more than 10 years old now. I hope it keeps on running. I don’t like change.

Bonnie Brown is a retired staff member of the University of Mississippi. She most recently served as Mentoring Coordinator for the Ole Miss Women’s Council for Philanthropy.
For questions or comments, email hottytoddynews@gmail.com.

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