A May message from Edie Clark
May 2, 2011From the Ashes
Many years ago, my mother was in love with a soldier who went to war. He was shot down on his first mission in the South Pacific, leaving a huge sadness in our family. In his will, he left all his belongings to my mother. Mostly, that amounted to a 1937 Ford, gray with a tan convertible top. My mother’s emotions around that car were perhaps too strong for her to ever drive it. Instead, not knowing what else to do with her grief, she joined the Marines, and while she was gone to war, she lent the car to her sister. Eventually the loan became permanent. We came to call it the Old Gray Ford (later, just OGF), such an integral part of our extended family, so much a part of our present that we almost forgot its past.
We all loved the car as it grew into antiquity, showing bits of rust and enduring frequent breakdowns. Frequently, my aunt drove us to Singing Beach with all of us in the back seat. We all knew exactly where to sit on those leather seats to avoid the springs that had popped up from beneath. When I came of age, my older cousin Mac taught me to drive stick shift on this car and also how to work the choke – tricky business. Mac used the car all through his college years and used it as the “getaway” car for his wedding and carried it onward into his life.
Eventually, the car went into storage, which is a polite way of saying it somehow disintegrated into pieces in a pile in Mac’s barn. The years passed. We all felt heartsick to see such a sad sight. We not only forgot where it came from, we almost forgot it was there. But somehow Mac’s daughter, Hayden, did not forget the OGF, though it’s a mystery to me how she remembered it, since she was not alive ever to have known it as a living, driving, moving being. Still, she was planning her wedding and said to her father one day, I would love to be able to drive away from my wedding in the OGF!
And so it was last May that I accompanied Mac to a place called RMR Restorations in Hollis, New Hampshire, not so far from my home, where men who know about such things indulge in the act of resurrection. Daily. Buckets of rusted parts were wheeled in. From its long storage, the chassis and a couple of doors were brought up on a flatbed truck. I entered the operating room with trepidation. In the OGF resided a deep well of emotion I hadn’t visited in many years. Of all the rusty pieces before me, I could identify only the steering wheel and the hubcaps. We told the mechanics the story of the car’s life in our family. Standing in a quiet semicircle, the men listened respectfully. Then we left them to their magic, which they performed over the next six months.
In October, on the beautiful blue-sky day of Hayden’s wedding, a shining OGF sat beside a house by the sea. The gray paint gleamed like polished enamel. A thin, red pinstripe ran the length to the rear fender. Hubcaps were like mirrors. We all hovered around it, feeling a bit like we were seeing a ghost, touching the imagined. Suddenly, we were afraid of leaving fingerprints on a car we used to treat like a comfortable old shoe. I climbed into the passenger seat. The car smelled of leather and hot sun. Mac worked the choke and pumped the accelerator. The engine came to life. He pressed the gearshift into first and we moved out onto the road.
Thinking about a young soldier who went to war and never came back, about my mother, who couldn’t bring herself to drive this car, about the years and the sheer will that have kept the OGF alive – or on life support – that well of emotion overflowed. The wedding was picture-perfect. Of course. The Old Gray Ford was with us.