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Columnist looks at her life through cars

By Debbie Leffler • Aug 4, 2017 at 3:00 PM

I remember my first car: a red ’71 Ford Pinto. It had a bashed-in headlight which pointed off to the side instead of straight ahead.

I bought it for $75 from a former Baltimore policeman and friend after trying to go to a police auction in a blizzard. I purchased insurance for it. I was proud of it. I lived in Cleveland, and drove it to work and back — I even picked up a co-worker along the way who wasn’t as fortunate as me, and didn’t own a car.

The next car was named Betsy, a blue Vega wagon that I bought from my boss at the time. She cost more than $75, but at least both headlights pointed straight ahead.

There have been many cars since then. There was the Edmobile, so-named because it was once driven by my brother Ed. My parents later sold to us for $200. It was gray, not a station wagon but a plain car. I’m not sure why we got rid of it.

Then there was the silver Oldsmobile with 100,000 miles on it that my husband’s parents gave us — it was their old car. It broke down on I-71 when we were on the way to the airport in Columbus to fly to New Jersey — three little kids in the car, stuck for hours at a gas station while trying to get our car repaired. We missed our flight. I remember a kind lady striking up a conversation with me and then helping me keep my small kids entertained. I never saw her again and I never thanked her enough. My in-laws were so upset that the car had broken down that they helped us pay for our first new car.

We hold on to cars for as long as we can. But when it’s time to get another car, how does one know what kind of car to get? Car advertisements are rampant on television, the radio, newspapers. ... Every type of car imaginable boasts that it is the best, that it will get the best mileage, that the driver will look awesome in that car.

Size is, of course, a big deal. With our growing family, I remember feeling very excited when our new Ford Taurus wagon had a trunk which could double as another row of seats, facing backwards — two more kids could ride in it. And facing backwards was a fun ride.

Then there was the series of minivans — a giant step ahead. We had four kids and now plenty of room for them and their friends. When they got to be teenagers, our first minivan — a squarish, brown thing  — became the car we gave to the kids. It went through permutations with colorful steering wheel covers, soft things dangling from the rear view mirror, and a sound system that was probably worth more than the car itself. That one had to be gotten rid of after it impressively caught fire in the parking lot at the Huron County Fairgrounds.

As I said, we hold on to cars as long as we can. That’s why, as older people with grown children we were still driving minivans. The car you buy usually reflects the stage of life you are in. That’s how the car you borrow from your parents becomes the beat-up car you can barely afford which becomes the minivan full of children and their friends which becomes. ... What next?

Time to face reality: no more driving children to Boy Scouts and dance class. No more teen-agers using the car. Do we really need a car with three rows of seats and lots of room in the back? Do we instead admit we are an older couple who would like to ride in comfort?

So a while back, the new car we chose was a Chevy Malibu with plenty of room for two people. But I still drove the old minivans around town, and I enjoyed the view from the high seats and the comfort of more space.

Our most recent purchase is an SUV that replaced our 20-year-old minivan. It has two rows of seats — not huge, but the seats are high, just like a minivan. If I pretend, I can picture the old days with lots of kids happily traveling with us.

Am I nostalgic for those days? Sometimes. But not for the days when all four children would be upset at the same time, and a road trip to Nebraska in that car entailed packing books, snacks, audiotapes, sewing cards, coloring books, crayons, flash cards, Mad Libs, and any form of entertainment I could devise (pre-IPad days).

And I’m definitely not nostalgic for the ’71 Pinto.

Debbie Leffler is a free-lance wrier who lives in Norwalk. She can be reached at rleffler@neo.rr.com.

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