Friday, December 16, 2011

Middle-Aged Women Don't Bounce: Part 5

After school on Tuesday, I met Dad out in the parking lot and off we went to the Shivy Garage.  We were ushered into a little office with two rather seedy-looking orange plastic chairs.  The salesman cordially bid us to have a seat and then the two men commenced to haggling.  Dad asked the price of a new Nova. 

Oh, a new Nova, eh?  Well, let's see.......They didn't have one on their lot, but one could be brought in from their other dealership.  We were dealing on a car I'd yet to see sitting on a lot about twenty miles away.

I had never seen a '76 Nova, so I had to do some research on them before we showed up at the garage.  It was a nice-looking car to my way of thinking.  Not too big.  Actually, I knew a guy who owned a 1972 Chevy Nova SS.  I didn't know him personally;  that would have meant I was Cool, but we've already gone down that road, and as you may recall, I wasn't.  But, oh, that SS was really a hot car back in the day, with a staggering 375 horsepower V8 tucked under it's diminutive hood.  Complete with extremely wide back tires that stuck out past the fenders and a jacked-up rear end, this was a car to reckon with. I could have gotten to work in record time with that speed wagon.

Unfortunately, the 1976 version of the same car was not as flashy.  By this time, California emissions were a concern and fuel economy was becoming an issue, why there was talk we'd be paying over a dollar a gallon for gas in the near future!

The car salesman quoted a number.  Dad lobbed a lower one back over the desk.  The car salesman said there was 'no way' he could entertain such a sickly, puling number.  Dad brought out his trump card from his bib overalls, the one from the competitor's lot with their lowball price.  (In reality, Dad did not want to buy the car from the competing lot because it was too far from home.  He preferred to keep his business in our town if he could.)  The salesman said he'd have to go talk to the boss.

He came back with that tense, rather sad look all car salesmen have to use when they need to prove they've gone to bat for you, the lowly customer, and said ok, they could meet the other garage's price, BUT they would have to order a different car and there would be a wait.  For the price my father wanted to pay, sure, they could meet it, but they would have to be removing essential yet luxurious components.  I was sitting there mutely wondering what luxurious essentials they were going to be stripping from the poor car; would it still have upholstered seats, or for that matter, seats at all? Would they take the windshield wipers off?  Would it have windows that opened? 

Dad drew himself up in his chair with dignity and said, "Like what?"

"Well, for this price, Joe, we can't sell you a car with an automatic transmission," he coaxingly crooned.  "For this price, you're looking at a car with a standard transmission and no power brakes.  I mean, c'mon now, we're here to sell cars, but we're not gonna GIVE 'em away.  If you want to pay less, you're going to get less.  It's just that simple."

My father was not the sort of man to be excessively proud nor arrogant, but he also wasn't the kind to come hat in hand begging, either.  I saw his temper flare up and thought ok, we're leaving, but then he didn't.  Though I didn't like the guy and his condescending tone, remembering my experience with the hoity-toity Driver's Ed car and that silly automatic tranny and power brakes, I was all for agreeing to the cheapened-up version of the car in question.  "Bring on the standard tranny,"  I silently prayed, "I can drive it, Mister."

I was about to be surprised again by Dad's response. "Oh, that's the way it works, is it?  Meet the price by lopping off extras.  I see how it's done.  I didn't ask you the price of a stripped-down car, I asked you for a fair deal on the car you have to offer.  If you can't come up with one, then there's other places that sell cars." 

We both rose to leave, but then the dealer had a change of heart.  Ok, ok, he'd go back and talk to the boss about it again.  He came back after a long ten minutes and said he couldn't meet Dad's lowest offer, but he could come down to this number and whaddya think about that?  Dad leaned over the desk, took a look at the new offer, frowned, and said, "For this price, all the parts damn well better still be on it when it gets here.  She needs it by Monday, is that a problem?"

No, it was not a problem.  The car would be ready for pick up by Wednesday afternoon.  Dad ordered them to throw in mud flaps and a Ziebart undercoating too.  He got the mud flaps for 'free', but the Us or Rust treatment was extra.  With tax, title and license, he cut them a check for $3,364.62 and I walked out of the garage into the sunlight the proud owner of a car I had yet to see.  I didn't even know what color it was, whether it was coupe or a sedan, and whether the seats were upholstered.

There may be youngsters reading this who will gasp in amazement, "You could buy a new car for three grand and change back in the day??"  Yes, you could, but my starting wage at All Casualty Mutual was just a little over $3 an hour.  Which, by the way, was a staggering sum to my parents who worked for much less than $3 a week when they were my age.  Ah, inflation.

On Wednesday, we had a only two more days left of school.  But in Phy Ed we had a task to complete, too.  I had taken a cycling class in gym and the last hurrah of my senior year was a 20 mile Bike Hike.  We left the high school after classes were over by one route and came back on another, going ten miles in one direction and ten miles back.  This bike ride meant nothing to me back then, I rode my bicycle constantly and even though it wasn't a fancy ten-speed, I could keep up just as well with everyone else.  It was the one thing in Phy Ed I excelled at, well, that and jumping hurdles.

Anyway, we were on our way back to school that afternoon when I broke away from the bunch I was riding with and headed over to Main Street to see if my car was at the dealers lot yet.  It was.  I stopped my bike in the parking lot and stared at what I was soon to start paying off.  It was the only Nova on the lot, so I knew this must be it.  It was a cream color (not my favorite hue, but oh, well) and a two-door.  I was really pleased about that, at least it wasn't an old fuddy duddy four-door.  Then I decided to peek in the window and saw they hadn't stripped the seats, they were indeed upholstered with a black and white plaid.  I don't know if you remember the old TV show 'WKRP in Cincinnati' or not, but I think the same cloth they used to make Herb Tarlek's tacky plaid suits were also installed in my car.  Along with white wall tires.  She was a Looker.

I'd agreed to meet Dad at the lot and we signed all the rest of the paperwork and I was then ushered out into the parking lot to watch while the dealer opened the doors and explained essential things about my new vehicle.  Things like where the gas tank was and what sort of fuel (Unleaded Only!) to put in it and how the windshield wipers operated (they had left them on) and how the floor mats worked.  Ok, class was over.  They shook my shaky hand and said, "Congratulations, she's all yours."

Oh, that meant I was supposed to leave.  I gulped.  Ok.  I can do this thing.  I slid behind the wheel on that impossibly bright, plaid seat and was instantly surrounded by New Car Smell.  (I love that smell, I'm weird like that.)   Not wanting to keep anyone waiting, I turned the key and the car obliged me by starting.   Dad stuck his head in the window and wryly remarked I'd better not rev the engine too much, look at the gas gauge. Good thing he noticed;  it was just barely off the 'E'.  I ever so slowly inched my way out of the dealer's driveway and remembering to use only my right foot, successfully embarked on our maiden voyage.  I met him at the gas station a block away and had to borrow money for a tank of gas too, which was added to my total debt load.  I was overwhelmed and not just a little scared.  This was all happening much too fast.  I wasn't so sure I was ready to grow up yet. I'd assumed all this debt and I hadn't even been to work.

Ok, so now I had the car in my possession but I didn't know how to get to the office.  Since we still had a few days before I had to report, Dad decreed he and I would make the trip together to figure out the best way to get there.  We decided to go sometime later that week, though, because we had first-crop hay to cut and cows to milk and all this running around was cutting into the farm work.  I was so glad to go back to the farm and my tractors; being out in the field was the only thing that calmed me down.  

Somehow I got through the rest of the school week and when Saturday arrived, we decided to head to the Big City.  It had rained, so there wasn't anything to be done in the fields, anyway.  I have to admit to something here; I had never been farther away from home than the Big City ever in my short life.  My father had been as far as Milwaukee once, but that was years and years ago and he had driven a Model A to get there which had also needed three tire changes to make the 200 mile round trip.   We lived only a dozen miles from Green Bay, but that might as well have been Timbuktu for all we went there, which for me, was once a year, right before school started.  Dad drove Mom and I to Green Bay to go to Sears and Kresge's so I could buy school clothes and supplies.  And that was the most nerve-wracking yearly experience of all of our lives.  Traffic abounded, and we weren't traffic-minded people.  At the time, the one- lane road we live on was literally a rutted up dirt trail with gravel added as an afterthought.  In the Spring the road heaved up and sank down in fantastic ruts that tested anyone's ability to maneuver them and still come out with an oil pan by the time you reached the blacktopped highway. 

Time had stood still on our road, but in bustling Green Bay, it had not.  There were now some two-lane roads and even a few traffic lights.  This was quite the change of pace for a family of farmers from the boondocks to navigate and the driving fell to Dad to negotiate.  He did not feel my mother was capable (I think she was, but she believed him) so when we had to go to the Big Towns, he was the driver.  Though he wouldn't admit to being scared, looking back, I know he was.  He was out of his element and of course, our car was a concern, too, though he never had to get out to adjust the linkage.  (I still don't know how he did it.)  He would white-knuckle it all the way in to town and back out again, only breathing easier when we finally left the hustle and bustle behind. 

I felt just the same way about traffic.  I hated it.  And I still do.

But, the skyscraper building was situated on the main avenue of the other Big City in my life in the opposite direction, and well, that's where I was going to have to drive, like it or not.  Dad and I got in my Nova and headed off the twenty-two miles to scout out my route. 

Dad was always cautious about driving, which is a good thing, and though he knew I could handle a tractor well enough, he wasn't so sure about my ability to drive in traffic.  We were both very nervous, which made me jumpy and him more ornery than usual.  To say it was a fun, father-daughter bonding experience would be a lie.  It was more like a grim, headlong dash into uncharted territory.  Neither of  us really knew how to get to All Mutual Casualty without becoming one ourselves.  Somehow we made it, mostly by spotting the tallest building on the skyline and going up and down a few streets until we finally arrived across the street from the joint.  The avenue was all stop and go lights and there were a few one-way streets sprinkled in for good measure, so I was on tenterhooks driving my brand-new car in all this madness and mayhem. 

Dad told me to park a quite a distance from the insurance company and both of us got out to walk down to the main avenue and see what sort of parking existed.  The lady from Employment had told me to park close to the building, so Dad wanted to be sure I knew how to get there come Tuesday morning.  As we rounded the corner of one large building, the windy conditions nearly blew us over, there's something about wind in that town that I'll never forget, and we both were taken aback by the ferocity of it. 

And it turned out, there was another wind blowing in that town that wasn't so pleasant either.  As we carefully threaded our way down the busy sidewalk thronged with shoppers, the traffic next to us had come to a stop for a red light.  In one of the cars sat a bunch of young guys in a convertible.  They spotted us and immediately started hooting and hollering.  We were both alarmed, and I know I nearly stopped for a bit.  What was it about us that drew such attention?   I soon found out.

Back in the day, Dad wore plain blue bib overalls to farm in.  They just made perfect sense, no belt to mess with, no pants to hitch up and very durable with plenty of pockets to carry all the necessary things, like wrenches and screwdrivers, a hunk of binder twine a pocket knife and a blue handkerchief to wipe his brow with. 

When he was going away from home, though, to an auction or other event, then he always wore his 'good' bibs, the Stripes; blue and white, clean and crisp.  He was very proud of his appearance, and would never appear in public wearing dirty clothing if he could help it.  He always wore a clean and presentable seed corn cap on his head, too, which bore the name of the latest and greatest corn in yields a farmer could buy. 

If he was attending a formal event, such as a wedding or a funeral, then of course, he had a good suit and a white shirt and black dress shoes, but on an outing such as the one we were on he would no more of thought of wearing his Sunday best suit than you would think of wearing a diamond tiara and a feather boa to the grocery store.  He looked like what he was. 

"Hey, looky there, it's a FARMER, boys!!  Whoo, hoo!  Who let you off the back forty, Gramps?  Hey, Farmer, don't you think it's about time you get home to your cows?  Where'd you park your tractor?  Or did you ride into town on a horse?  Hey, do you smell something?" 

Blessedly, the light changed and our tormentors were finally on their way, though their shouts rang out down the street as they went.  Dad snorted under his breath, "Well, what the h...," but then he just kept walking down the sidewalk with me at his side, with his head held firmly aloft.  

Until that day on that glitzy sidewalk, I had never thought of the word 'farmer' as a dirty word or in any way inappropriate or something to be ashamed of.  Though we never spoke of the incident, I was heartsick for my father.  And proud, too.  He had carried himself with dignity.  Which was more than could be said for those jerks.

City life was decidedly different, and it wasn't just the traffic. 

The green as grass farm girl was in for a rude awakening.




Anonymous said...

I think your Dad must have been very proud of you even if he didn’t often show it.

myomyohi said...

You have a much better memory than I do, and I too owned a Nova. A bright orange one... it was a hot car in the day... but so was I. Hea, what happened? :)

Alison said...

Some day, Karen, you really should get together all your stories about growing up/living on a farm and put them in a book. You can tell a story like nobody's business! I don't know how you remember all this detail, I have no memory for this kind of stuff.

Toni - Signature Gardens said...

As a farm kid, I remember back in school days always feeling a little lower than the city kids -- or feeling that the city kids looked down on the farm kids, but I can't say that I remember any detailed comments made. Now looking back, though, I am proud of growing up on a farm. How sad that those guys taunted your dad like that. Deep down your dad had a soft side... protecting his daughter. He could have told you to fend for yourself. Waiting for the sixth installment....

Dandelion and Daisy said...

Karen you are a great teller of stories. I'm really enjoying this one.

Cathy W said...

Wow. I'm loving are the best storyteller. I keep thinking "where was I?" during this...I have very little recollection of that time of my life. I sure do remember Dolly, though. I wasn't one of her girls, so I got the steely, mean eyes when I had the misfortune of having her for a study hall. And a 1976 Nova? My mother traded my dad's car in for a navy colored Nova after he passed away. I had the pleasure of sitting in the passenger seat while she learned to drive the back way to Green Bay. I'm still scared thinking about it. LOL Seriously, you have a gift, Karen. I can't wait for the next installment. :)

xoxoxo said...

I agree with all of the above! Just wish I had enough coffee to get in more reading time!
I am off to the big city myself to get to that W-O-R-K place!
Can I just get a job reading your blog? That would be nice!
Looking forward to coffee tomorrow and part 6! I am way behind1