When I was young I spent a great deal of time at my grandparent’s
house. My first real job was washing my grandfather’s Cadillac. He
loved that car and I tried my hardest to clean everything just
thoroughly as he had shown me. He was a quiet man, sweet and kind. He
loved my grandmother and his “stories.” I spent many an afternoon next
to him watching “Guiding Light”. When the show finally went off the
air a few years ago, I howled; as if my last connection to him had
been severed. I ached for days.
Spending time at my grandparent’s meant driving around town with them.
I sat behind my grandfather and it is this view of him that I see most
clearly in my mind’s eye. What little hair he had was fastidiously
combed. He had a special brush he used before he went out driving or
to church, another set of brushes for shaving. He had a special pair
of tools for shining his shoes or for working in the garage. I imagine
he had a certain set of equipment that he took with him into the mines
each day, but that was before I knew him. Though it was a spot on his
lung brought on from his time underground that eventually took him
He was utterly devoted to my gram, and she to him. He loved her funny
ways and her cooking. Each morning she would make coffee that
percolated on the stove. He would pour for both, with enough milk
added that caused it to overflow the cup. After they each drank a
little, they would pour the contents from the saucer back in to the
cup and continue on. I never questioned such behavior, just accepted
it as what was done. Hoping too that someday I would be grown up
enough to drink coffee in this same fashion.
My gram bought all of her groceries from Krusik’s, the general store
in town. My grandfather would drive us there and we would sit and wait
for her. Sometimes we talked about his cars, a favorite topic of his.
This was a love that he would pass on to his sons– my father and my
uncles. Those boys grew up, lived in the same town and bought a garage
together. In their free time they frequented auctions and sales. It
wasn’t uncommon for each of them to be working on something classic,
tinkering until it ran just as they imagined. Most of my childhood was
spent driving around in army jeeps, my sister and I on top of the
battery box–no seatbelts or keys required. These jeeps started
magically, with the press of a button. We would sometimes take them
off-road and ride in the creek when it was low enough. Such adventure
and excitement I’ve never been able to replicate in my adult life. I’m
not sure how old I was at the time, but one of the brothers bought an
ambulance that had been modified from a classic car. I don’t remember
the make, but we could cram a great many kids into the back. Whenever
we took part in a parade, we kids would open up the windows and toss
out the candy.
My grandfather, though, always favored the Cadillac. When I first
heard that Springsteen song years ago I felt nostalgic for my
grandfather’s own. They were never pink, rather a deep maroon. Each
one lovingly cared for by a man who found enjoyment in driving.
Pleasure in the smooth ride down to the store, or taking the kids out
for a Sunday drive. I felt like he was a chauffeur and sometimes he
played along with my pretend games. His hair may have been gray and
thin by then, the hat he wore often covered it up. He was no longer a
young man, but his shirts were always pressed, his shoes shined. His
dedication to his family and the life around him was deep and true. I
felt safe when he was behind the wheel, in his arms I was strong.