Whenever I install my granddaughters into their thrones in the back seats of their mom’s and dad’s cars, I am reminded of the lack of seat belts we used “back in the days.”
Our first car, in 1956, was a 1948 Packard we bought from an uncle. It had the most comfortable seats. We kept taking it to the Packard dealer in Alexandria when it had trouble. As I recall, Virginia had an inspection once a year. I did know the horn would be tested. The horn only worked when the steering wheel was either left or right (can’t recall) so when I drove into the inspection station, I twisted the wheel and hit the horn. Whew, passed that test. When the car got to the point that we put in as much oil as gas, it was time to think about getting another car; that and the fact that our family was growing by leaps and bounds. I may also note that the local Packard dealer went out of business about the same time we gave up the car. Coincidence? Maybe.
When Volkswagen came out with the bus, we looked and we bought one, for $1,700, (you read that right), a VW bus –in 1959. What a car. It was so new and unique, heads would turn when we drove down the street. We gave rides to people who had never seen such an odd looking car. Once while driving on a back road in rural New York, we had to pull over because something wasn’t right. Sea opened the small back door where the engine was and, consulting the manual, fixed what was wrong. He likes to say the rubber band broke. A farmer stood and watched in awe. I picture him leaning on a hoe, straw hat on his head, but it was just a local guy. He didn’t say a thing. I would love to know what he told his wife when he went home. I don’t even want to think about what we would have done if Sea didn’t know how to fix the “rubber band”.
We drove the bus from Virginia to the Cape that summer. This bus had a sign on the dash board. Do not drive over 50 mph. We didn’t. Cars passed us and one just like ours passed us with a bumper sticker that read DON’T PASS, PUSH. They should have issued the sticker with every car. One summer we came home with a small piano in the back right behind the driver. My sister was taking on my parents baby grand but wanted a home for her little piano. It caused many a stare when we stopped for gas. And no, neither of us would give a concert while we waited for the gas to be filled.
Another summer we put a sail boat on top of the bus and drove to Cooperstown for a family visit. Four, or was it three, kids in the car and a boat on top. Why not. The kids? No they were not snugly fastened into car seats. On this trip, I got the front seat. The kids enjoyed the back. We had set the seats so they faced each other, like a booth, with stuff crammed into the foot space. It was like a big play pen. At one point we did have a car seat . It was hooked over the back of the seat and easily removed. No thrones for my kids. Was it safe? I am sure it wasn’t. In fact Amelia got a tooth knocked out when she fell in the car. But then Bill lost a front tooth falling down stairs. Oh dear, does that make me a bad mother? I am sure every parent has a catastrophic event they could tell about.
There came a time when we really needed another car. Sea asked, “What kind of car would you like?” My answer… a bus. So we bought a second bus. This one was blue…. my color. The summer it was new Sea had vacation to use or lose so we took off for five weeks and headed to Nova Scotia. The kids were almost 5,7,9 and ten. (They all have late fall birthdays so our summer trips were at the “almost” age every time.)
For this trip Sea built a huge box to install on the top of the car. The white paint looked pretty grim so in the weeks before the trip. I painted it like a red and white checkerboard. In it we put six sleeping bags, a huge tent, and other camping gear. We were going to “rough it” in comfort. Bill took on the front seat with his dad, and the girls and I were installed in the “play pen” area in the back. As we drove north we played every car game you can play and invented some more. We sang songs. I became a pro at car entertainment. When we stopped for lunch we would pull way to the side of the rest stops. We would use the facilities and picnic, and run about while we could. I was not going to trap four restless kids at a restaurant. It was a wonderful, never to be forgotten, trip. It only rained twice, once in the middle of the night and once at meal time forcing us to eat out… whoopee. We had one little problem with the bus and spent one day at a repair shop. I always packed a small surprise toy for the kids in case we needed some new entertainment. The four kids played with their new trolls all over the waiting room of the car repair shop. Trolls were the favorite toy for that trip. At one point we found an old lobster trap. It became a troll house and returned home with us, only to be forgotten when we moved west.
On the trip home we did hit rain and fog as we arrived in Maine. This blue bus would go over 50 mph so we headed home fast. On our return trip we were all thinking about the new school year and the return to work. Sea had been looking for a new job. A phone call within days of our return changed our lives. It took Sea about two seconds to accept a job in Washington state. So we prepared for a move from Washington DC to Washington. The new company moved our stuff and we arranged for one car, the green bus, to be shipped west. We spent Christmas with my family in Mass, and shipped the new blue bus west.
We flew to Seattle and Sea went to pick up the old green bus. We loaded in the kids, our luggage for the next few weeks, and headed north to Bellingham. The car got half way there and broke down. Fixing the rubber band this time would not be enough. How many times have you seen a police car behind you and slowed down? The police car was right behind us. For all I know he was following this decrepit old bus just to watch it fall apart, and fall apart it did. The police man took everything, kids and luggage and all, to a car rental and we never saw the old green bus again.
That was the treat of the day. A ride in a police car. Thank you police man.
New city, new car… what did we get… another bus.
The bus became crucial to everything we did. We camped up and down the west coast getting acquainted with our new area. As the kids grew older, I became the car that accompanied the Girl Scout bike trip. When Amelia reached driving age, she took the bus on a ferry to one of the islands and ran out of gas just as they boarded the ferry. They used “girl power” to push it off of the ferry.
Finally it was time to move on again. The new VW buses were too big, too fancy. We replaced it with an ordinary car. One era was over. Ready for the next.