Dad bought it for $25.00, a 1949 baby-blue Crosley station wagon. In the mid-‘60s an outlay of cash for him, but he needed a utility vehicle and this was a solution. It didn’t run. He hauled it to the house with his papa’s tow truck, said once Papa got his hands on it, it was running in no time. Carburetor needed cleaning, that’s all. He kept it under the elevated front porch.
He cut off the roof so it could serve as a pickup truck. He installed a hitch and attached four gang mowers to cut the lawn on the acre-long backyard hill. This was him, his imagination. No matter a high school education, less than perfect street English. He had this gift: ingenuity, a playful, musical mind, and a gangster’s perception for all the angles. Second-generation immigrant, a survivor.
It became our fun car. He named it the “baby car.” Indelible, those summer nights after dinner when he’d sneak out and start it up, rev the engine. It could have been a Formula One racer the way the porch vibrated. I remember the rumble and burping roar all at once, the faded brown leather seats, the floor shift like on school buses, and the huge steering wheel.
He was again a teenager at 34: thick earthy hair disheveled at that point in the day, white crew-neck tee shirt, sleeves rolled up like Marlon Brando tough guy ready to raise hell, and that full-faced smile sitting in the driver’s seat waiting for my two brothers and me to scurry out of the house. He’d rev it a few more times, wave us in, remind us to take care where we put our hands; the edges where he had cut off the roof, though filed down, were still rough in spots. It was a score to sit in front, next to him. We had to take turns.
Take-off was a rush, up the hill, down the side, sometimes up and down and around old Mrs. Bone’s field, adjacent to the backyard. Soon the neighbor kids would show up, stand at the top of the hill, and wait for the next lap around. They’d hear the rumble in the distance, rush from the dinner table yelling, “The baby car, the baby car, hurry up, let’s go!”
We’d stop and they’d climb in. Some nights the kids across the street showed up too. We’d ride down Nana and Papa’s driveway, across Main Street and behind the Methodist church, rough, rugged, gyrating, jumping humps and bumps. Five to seven kids bounced and bopped about, with one big kid behind the wheel.
We were hot shit, especially him, the magic driver.
Catherine Arra is the author of Deer Love (Dos Madres Press, 2021), Her Landscape, Poems Based on the Life of Mileva Marić Einstein (Finishing Line Press, 2020), (Women in Parentheses) (Kelsay Books, 2019), Writing in the Ether (Dos Madres Press, 2018), and three chapbooks. Arra is a native of the Hudson Valley in upstate New York, where she teaches part-time and facilitates local writing groups. Find her at www.catherinearra.com