“What kind of car does your family drive?” the teacher asked.
Maybe her question came from a social studies lesson, or something else. It was the 1950’s in rural-suburban Woodbridge, Connecticut outside New Haven. Each student in my older sister Jane’s second grade class at Center School stood and responded with pride.
Then it was Jane’s turn. I suppose she thought about the Diaper Wagon sitting outside the barn apartment where we lived while my father was a medical student and intern – that’s Mother in the picture. Or maybe the old retired Emergency Room car my father drove – that’s me with a puzzle – or the purple Studebaker, another relic Daddy managed to keep alive. We always had everything we needed and felt rich in so many ways, until moments like this.
Jane pulled her petite, redheaded self up to her full height and declared, “In our family, cars are called transportation.”
We would retell that story and laugh for years to come.
This past week, I read Anna Quindlen’s Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake: A Memoir of a Woman’s Life. It’s a light read in which Quindlen dispenses equal portions of humor and wisdom. This section reminded me of my sister’s story.…I’ve finally recognized my body for what it is: a personality delivery system, designed expressly to carry my character from place to place, now and in the years to come. It’s like a car, and while I like a red convertible or even a Bentley as well as the next person, what I really need are four tires and an engine. I don’t require a hood ornament.
That’s how we were raised and how lived our lives: a car is four tires and an engine that takes you where you need to go in order to do your job in life. Red, black, purple, green, blue or white – we drove them all including the ’54 Ford with a Thunderbird engine, the first vehicle I drove solo as a young teen in 1966. What a tank snarling with power!
These days on the mountain, we drive a 4-wheel-drive truck and an all-wheel-drive SUV. They’re functional vehicles, certainly not glamorous – no hood ornaments – and good transportation for steep gravel roads. In my 60’s like Quindlen, I’m ever attentive to maintenance schedules, but spend little time primping in the rearview mirror and little money on cosmetics.
“It’s not about how my body looks at this point,” Quindlen wrote; “it’s how it works.”
I am no longer driving a snarling, powerful tank. As a relic of the Baby Boom, I’m doing the best I can to stay in good working order.
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