The car I grew up in
Was a ’59 Pontiac Star Chief
Four -door sedan hardtop
In a color my Crayola 64 box called Flesh.
Even at a time when most cars
Came in a wide variety of vibrant colors,
This one stood out.
Not that it was flashy.
My Dad would never have a flashy car.
No, this color was like my Dad himself,
Solid, utilitarian, not trying to be anything
Other than what it was,
Prizing family over fashion.
Sprawled in the wide bench seat in the back,
My older brother and I would press our noses to the glass
Just to watch the world go by
In a horizontal blur.
Or stand on the hump in the middle
And fold our arms over the front seat
Between Mom and Dad
to watch the road come up to meet us,
the long white line whizzing under the chrome arrowhead
that ornamented the sleek hood.
During the day
We would sing along with Mom and Dad
To all the old standards,
Taking turns picking which song would be next:
“I’ve Been Workin’ on the Railroad,”
“Deep in the Heart of Texas,”
“Don’t Fence Me In,”
“On Top of Old Smokey,”
“From the Halls of Montezuma,”
And my favorite “Give My Regards to Broadway,”
Because it talked of that magical black-and-white place
I saw in the late-night movies
When my Mom would let me stay up to watch with her.
But on nighttime drives
When they thought we were asleep
My parents would sing “their” songs:
“I Love You Truly,”
“Let Me Call You Sweetheart,”
“A Shanty in Old Shantytown.”
Mom’s beautiful soprano carried the tune
And Dad would come in softly to harmonize.
Often they would lean their heads closer
And find each other’s eyes
As they stretched out the final note.
Nat King Cole’s “Rambling Rose”
They sang both day and night.
I think it was the word rambling
That captured their imaginations,
And seemed a perfect accompaniment
to our rambles in the flesh-toned Star Chief.
Daily life for my parents in our small coal mining town
in the four-room apartment above my grandparents
was not easy.
Mom worked school hours in a medical lab,
then cooked, cleaned and cared for us
and anyone else in need of her loving touch.
Dad worked long hours in the lumberyard
where he had been employed since high school,
before and after the war.
After supper, he went out to do the books for several local businesses,
working alone in darkened stores and offices.
Dad was not someone anyone would call a dreamer.
Hard work, responsibility, frugality, caution.
These were the concrete values he lived by.
But every once in a while,
With a twinkle in his eye
He would let tell us about his two fantasies:
To go on a big game safari in Africa and,
Just for a time,
To ride the rails like a hobo.
Our excursions in the Star Chief,
particularly the long Sunday drives to the Poconos,
were Mom and Dad’s escape from the routine
and our entertainment.
Often our only destination
Was a roadside overlook
Where we’d enjoy a picnic lunch packed by my mother
Served on a starched cotton tablecloth
Laid carefully over the rough wood of a rest stop table.
These trips didn’t cost anything to speak of
(gas was cheap back then),
But for us they provided untold treasures.
I often wonder if,
Coming around a bend,
My father imagined a tawny lion
Slinking across a field
Or a gazelle in full gallop
Leaping across our path.
Did he look at the countryside rushing past
And imagine he was peering through the slats of a boxcar?
I suppose each of us packed our own dreams
For the ride.
And no matter where we rambled,
That was enough.
Debra Rose Brillati