The Family Business

My husband and I were born and bred in Detroit - The Motor City - and automobiles are definitely in our blood. Both of my grandfathers came to Detroit expressly because of the automotive industry. My maternal grandfather by way of a small town in central Kentucky, my paternal grandfather by way of a small village in Armenia. But because of Ford Motor Company and Timken Axle, they were able to provide for their families during Depression years and The Great War. 

No surprise then that my father whet his teeth at Ford’s, learning enough about the tool and die industry to open his own business and then become an automotive supplier. 

My father-in-law worked for Chrysler, my mother-in-law worked for Ford, and both retired with good pensions and benefits, the kinds that have long since faded from the business world. Although Jim has never worked directly for an automotive company, he has spent his career in designing and building the inner workings of those huge factories where cars are assembled. 

My first car was a 1972 blue Chevy Nova with a 350 engine; my second car a 1976 silver Trans Am, “screaming chicken” and all. Followed by a 1978 Corvette silver anniversary edition, which my dad bought for me in May of 1979. My relationship to my husband was originally inspired by my desire for a ride in is 1971 black Mach One Mustang.

I think my son considers our old 1979 Bandit Tran Am his mechanical “brother” since Jim bought it the day after Brian was born. And I have a sneaking suspicion that our grandson’s middle name (Alexander) was chosen based on the fact that his monogram would be CAR. Which is perfect, since he is a complete and total car enthusiast, and at the age of 3 is already “driving” his Dad’s Pontiac GTO through the neighborhood.

So I’m a car girl in every way. Our whole family is loyal to the American automotive industry. The only “foreign” car we’ve ever had was my 2007 Saab turbo, and the year after I bought it the American car companies went bankrupt. I know I can’t take responsibility for that. But still. I’m all American from now on. (Or a least, American labeled.  I realize that a good many parts and pieces of American cars are no longer manufactured in America. That is much to my chagrin - but that is an entirely different story than the one I mean to tell today.) 

The American automotive industry has fed and clothed me since the day I was born.

It’s kind of our family business. 

Because of all that, a good portion of our income has always been spent on cars. And I’ll admit, as I’ve gotten older I’ve sometimes wished I had some of that back. Did I really need to lease new Lincoln Mark VIII’s every two years for eight years running, to the tune of $500 a month each time? That was a good chunk of change down the proverbial drain, even though I did really enjoy driving that sleek, smooth riding, powerful car around town.

One of the things that’s happened to me as I’ve aged is a definite diminishment in my enjoyment of the automotive experience. It’s a sad fact about getting older: the things that once brought great pleasure seem sort of ho-hum. (I know, there’s another story implicit in that statement too, but I’m not about to go there.) Maybe it’s because I’ve been relegated for the past five years to what I consider an “old-lady car.” Or maybe it’s just because the cars I can realistically afford aren’t all that appealing. If someone were to offer me one of those Shelby Mustang GT’s like I saw on the floor of the auto show yesterday, I would probably be much more enthusiastic. 

But maybe not. I think my priorities have simply shifted. These days I think more about saving my money to make sure we have a nice home for our retirement, that we can spend winters in Florida or somewhere else warm. I don’t do a lot of driving anymore anyway, and I’m beginning to have more interest in comfort (yes to heated/cooled seats and steering wheels!) and less about how fast I can get off the red light.

“When I was a child, I spoke as a child. When I became a man, I put away childish things.” This Bible verse seems very true to me in these days, as I think about the ways our lives will change in the years ahead. As we walked around the floor of the Auto Show yesterday, instead of dreaming about what color car I might get next, or trying to decide whether to get a two door or four door, or which had the most horsepower or the sleekest lines, I was planning how best to coincide my next car purchase with Jim’s retirement so that it made sense for our budget. 

At almost 59 years of age, I’m certainly well past childhood. I had a good long run of playing with cars, and I’ve got some great car-related memories (especially in the aforementioned 1971 Mach One Mustang that belonged to a certain first boyfriend). Even though I spent a lot of money in my “salad days” of car ownership, I don’t really begrudge it. The feeling of speeding down the highway with the windows down, the t-tops off, and the radio blaring rock and roll is a feeling I savored time and again. I don’t know for certain that it’s completely over -somewhere deep down I still may be holding out hope for that red Mustang convertible - but for now it feels as if I can put my cars away in the annals of my memory and travel on.