Sunday, July 13, 2014

Buying a New Car: Mindset Limitations - Our VW Bug

The Beloved Bug

Which brings me to the mindset limitations I've had to face about cars.  

My parents started married life driving a new VW bug.  It may have been one of the first imports to the U.S., which seem to have started in about 1956, two years after my birth.  It was beige with a beige interior.
I drove it as a teenager.  The battery sat on the floor on the driver's side.  Eventually, the floor rusted out. One day, as I was driving the bug to high school, the battery fell out on the street. Undaunted, my Dad cut a piece of shelving board long and wide enough to cover the hole in the floor, and I continued to drive the car until I left for college.  

I earned a reputation for two things while driving that car.  I learned to back up long distances. (Perhaps this is one reason I find the rear-collision inducing design of the cross-over styling so irksome. It makes me a less proficient back-up driver!)  

And, being even a distracted driver then, I'd forget to get gas after I had reached down to the front well of the car to flip to the one-gallon reserve tank.  You see, it did not have gas gauge.  Instead, you got one extra tank of gas that should have taken you immediately to the gas station.  Not me.  I was forever running out of gas.  And, now, I can't remember how I solved that recurring problem.  Perhaps I bothered my boyfriends to save me.

I also learned to drive a stick shift in that car (one of the few women I knew who could).  I was reminded of that recently when my first real boy friend, Tuscon fiddler Tim Barrett, sent me a copy of a film he directed back then.  I starred in his spy film as an heiress (I guess) who was taken hostage while sunbathing on the lawn of her estate (my backyard, actually), despite the careful watch of two security guards (two high school friends).

But, we only had one get-a-way car and one chase-car, both VW bugs, mine being the lead car in the film.  In re-watching the film, I laughed out loud when I saw myself driving the lead get-a-way car. Apparently, only two of us knew how to drive a manual transmission, so even as "the heiress," I had to orchestrate the hostage-takers' escape. 

Then my brother, Greg, drove it.  By that time, the car was at least sixteen years old.  In fact, as a baby, Greg had been tucked into the cubby hole behind the rear seat on our long trips back-and-forth between St. Louis and my parents' home-town of Virginia, Illinois. They returned twice a month to stock our pantry with free groceries from my Grandfather Paul Young's grocery store.   

One snowy winter morning, when Greg was probably a junior in high school, my Mom got a call from a neighbor. The neighbor said: "JoAnn, Someone has gotten your VW bug into Lewis Park and nearly pushed it over the edge into the pond." Lewis Pond was a small stone-edged pond in the center of a small park located nearly across the street from our house in St. Louis. 

On far too many occasions, as the big sister in charge of my three younger brothers, we would "fish" in the pond.  It was a rather disgusting body of water, filled with sleds that had fallen through the ice the winter before.  (The park has some steep, but short runs for sledders.)  Inevitably, one of my brothers would land and haul out some disgusting bottom-feeding fish that I would inevitably announce had to be released back into the disgusting pond.  

I remember one time, when my brother John was running around the edge of the circular pond.  I shouted: "John, quit running!  You will fall into the pond!"  No sooner had I said it, he did.  He started screaming: "I'm drowning! I'm drowning!" In my typically unsympathetic, big-sister way, I said "Shut-up, you idiot! Just stand up!  The pond is only three feet deep at that end!"  He crawled out, covered in disgusting slime and fish poop.  And, I walked him back across Delmar Boulevard for a shower. 

So, that winter morning, our beloved VW bug hung half way over the pond's stone edge teetering towards the iced-over muck. 

My Mom, in her hurry to assess the situation, threw on her fur coat over her nightgown and robe, pulled on a pair of slip on boots, and headed out the back door. She loved that fur coat. It was 3/4 lengths, had a wide leather belt, and a fox-fur trim. I don't recall the type of fur making up the body of the coat, but it had a reddish brown color.  

She barreled across Delmar Boulevard to the park. At the top of the sledding hill, she tripped.  And, like an otter headed to a stream, she slid head-first down the hill, "faster 'n shit," towards the pond and the perilously perched VW bug. Those of us still at the top of the hill stood in dumbfounded disbelief. We thought we'd lose them both.  

I am not sure how long that car stayed in the family.  One of my brothers would have driven it during its final days.  We loved that car.  It signified freedom, independence, parental trust, and fun. 

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