A Dream Come True, A Nightmare that Wouldn’t Go Away

A Dream Come True, A Nightmare that Wouldn’t Go Away

Through the Windshield of My Life

What? A Convertible? In our driveway?


1963 Oldsmobile, F-85, Cutlass

Glamorous new look behind the wheel! The F-85 instrument panel is completely restyled, places all gauges for quick and ready reference. New “Delcotron” generator keeps electrical system charging even at idle. Entry and exit is easier, too, with smaller steering wheel for increased clearance.

Buckets on a budget! Solid-tone pleated “Morocceen” is offered in five shades-blue, red, white, black and saddle. Decorative chrome moldings and nylon carpeting add a sparkling luxury touch.

Appointments on the DeLuxe F-85 include full carpeting and foam padding in the front seat. DeLuxe steering wheel, safety-padded instrument panel and two-speed electric windshield wipers are standard equipment.

I don’t think I can remember a time in my childhood when I was more elated.

1963 F-85 Conv blue

Our 1963 Cutlass

I was in the 3rd grade, I loved my teacher, Miss Dolan. Life was good! My mom had gone back to work for a really classy hotel as a desk clerk. She would dress up each day with her hair perfect,  nice clothes and Tabu perfume. Along with her job came other benefits like movie tickets to the “Cinerama Theater” which was next door to the hotel. We got season tickets for incredible films like “The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm, How the West Was Won, and many others we really enjoyed.

John with Olds Conv (2)

Dressed as "Tom Jones"

But the movie tickets didn’t compare to the day I saw her drive up in our driveway in a 1963 Oldsmobile convertible. I don’t know why, but I was completely enamored by convertibles. I thought of them as a way to have incredible fun on great sunny mid-western days. I was always curious about the mechanical tops and how in seconds a car could be transformed from a clumsy looking canvas topped car to a beautiful sleek envious ride. I loved seeing all of the models large and small and couldn’t wait to watch someone push a button and slowly lower the top into the back of the car and drive away.

I never thought in a million years we would ever have a convertible sitting in our driveway. My mom was almost as enthused with her new car as I was. I remember sitting in the front with a sleek console beautifully separating the “bucket seats” while she explained the car with such detail. My grandfather, her dad, was a car buff. She had grown up with all of the incredible Chryslers that he had owned, so she was familiar with terms and features that were exciting.

“Johnny, this is an Oldsmobile, F-85, Cutlass. It has a “ROCKET V-8” engine.”

I thouJohn 4th grade - 1964ght, “A ROCKET engine?” Wow. I remembered seeing one of the first rockets going up into space and to think of a car as having a rocket engine was even more exciting. She pointed out the button that would lower the top and down it went. Oh my gosh, this is so amazing. “Let’s go for a ride!”

Mom worked the afternoon shift so she wasn’t home much when I was. She came home late in the night and was always asleep in the mornings when I was getting up for school. But almost every morning I would go out into the garage and take a look at “my” new convertible. Well, it wasn’t brand new since she told me she bought it from a customer at the hotel. But to me, a nine month old car was pretty new. Some mornings I would go out and find that she drove the car into the garage with the top down and left it down. Those were the days I would talk her into taking me to school in the “Rocket Engine Cutlass”. How awesome to have the kids at school see me riding up the driveway, proudly announcing, “We have a convertible!”

There were days I would talk mom into letting me stay home saying I didn’t feel well. It usually worked. Since I was “sick” I would often get a new game or toy to help keep me entertained and even better, it was a time to spend with mom since I didn’t see her much. Our weekends didn’t include much family time either. But even better than the new games, in good weather, I would entice her into a ride with the top down.

We had a family room in our basement next to my sister’s bedroom where we watched TV. One night my mom had been laying down in there from being sick. As we were in the family room, my dad came through carrying my mom saying he was taking her to the hospital. She was there for a few days and I was worried about my mom getting better. When she came home I suggested she sleep in my room saying, “You can sleep there so dad wouldn’t bother you in the night”.

Giving her my room was a tremendous sacrifice. Mom had just completely redecorated my room with an Indian printed bedspread, pillows, and décor. I really liked my new room but mom was sick, so she slept in there and I moved to my dad’s big double bed and slept with him. This was fine until one day it seemed she was better and never talked with me about giving me my bedroom back. Week after week, all I saw was my bedroom door closed and sensed that I wasn’t allowed to go in. So, one day I wondered what my new room looked like so I decided to open that door and look in when she wasn’t home.

I was shocked at what I saw. My room was a disaster! I couldn’t find my bedspread since it was buried underneath all of the junk. My new dresser had dried fingernail polish that had spilled on its top which permanently damaged the surface. I felt the air go out of my lungs. I wondered, “What happened to my room?”

I never said anything because I tried to always be the good boy and not upset anything. Not only was my mom sleeping in her private cave, we hardly saw her any more. One Sunday stood out to me because our entire family was in the back yard playing badminton. This had become a rare occasion and its oddity became etched into my mind. Our family was beginning to splinter.

I remember hearing an argument between my mom and dad about the new convertible. It seemed my dad wasn’t as excited about the car as I was. It appeared she had bought the car without him knowing about it. He kept talking about how they couldn’t afford that car. It was clear this wasn’t a joint endeavor. I never saw my dad in the car. It was another private place in my mom’s life that my dad didn’t enter.

As things continued to seem confusing, I found out that my mom had added a second job to her schedule. She was a waitress at a little diner down in town. At one point, she took my sisters and I to eat there where she introduced us to the owners, the Browns. A man came into the diner and sat down with us. I had never seen him before but he was seemingly a really nice man. He paid attention to us and seemed to think we were pretty special. I looked at his smile, his kind eyes, and heard his affirming words. I wanted to spend more time with him, to see him again. The desire to be with him was coming from deep inside me. His name was Mel. I liked what I felt but it also felt confusing.

So, as the weeks went by we saw Mel some more times and I always felt so warm around him. But I never thought about it being strange that the world with Mel never crossed over the world with my dad and our home.

It seemed my dad had become a virtual single parent. He also worked two jobs. He was a mailman during the early part of the day and delivered the daily paper in the afternoon to around 500 people. He was certainly busy but always seemed to be home with us every evening. My sisters were in middle school by this time and were quite capable of fixing simple dinners so they would make “Chef Boyarde” Pizzas and hamburgers and we would sit around the table without mom. Every Tuesday we went out to eat at a local café which was always special for all of us, but mom wasn’t there either.

Sunday morning was always the time to go to church.  My dad came from a Catholic family.  He made sure my sisters and I always went to church.  We learned that God was at the center of life, Jesus died for our sins and offered us a place in heaven.  Dad taught me to have faith in God for the little things and the big ones.  He lived what he believed and laid a foundation of faith in my life that in a simple way carried me through my childhood. But my future would become much too hard for my lack of maturity in understanding God in the difficult times.

The Gary Moore Show, or Dick VanDyke, or Mary Tyler more also stood out to me as memories with my dad. We also enjoyed sitting on our large front porch on warm evenings just quietly watching the cars drive by. We had a game we played where we would guess the brand of the next car that drove by and see who would get it right. These were good times with my dad. But the household was soon to explode and things were shakiJohn 5th grade - 1965ng loose. The separation of lives that was growing with my parents but it didn’t seem to bring any arguments. My dad never talked about the things we were seeing so we were left to our own imagination to figure it all out. This split way of living went on for about two years.

My life just seemed to be a crazy kind of normal until one day when I was in the fifth grade. As I walked out of school to take my usual, three block, walk home I saw the convertible drive up next to me on the street. I was a little shocked since my mom was usually at work. The door opened up and mom got out of the passenger side and told me to get in. I looked in and my sisters were in the back seat. When I got in I quickly looked into the driver’s seat and to my surprise, Mel was driving.

I felt the joy of seeing him, but I also felt a tremendous rush of confusion and fear. Our home world had just collided with Mel’s world. Mom said we were going to the Brown’s house and stay there for a couple of days. I don’t remember how she continued on in our conversation but it seemed that my dad was leaving our home. From what she had said, it seemed that dad had become dangerous and was to be feared. She told us we shouldn’t see him. So that night and for a couple more days I slept in a sofa bed with my mom in a strange place.

When we finally went back home things seemed to become angry around us. We didn’t know any details, but after a while my dad would come over on Sunday’s to see us. He was friendly and yet it all seemed so clumsy.

Our lives had changed drastically. Many times my mom would take us to bars where she would meet Mel for a “few beers”. The music, smells, and atmosphere are unforgettable to me. Even to this day I can’t stand the smell of beer because of the remnants of those times in my mind. But, at the same time, considering Mel was there I would sit close to him, touching his life next to mine. He was warm, friendly, and continued to be affirming and loving towards us. So, with mixed emotions, going to the bars was something I hoped we’d do, as long as Mel would be there with us.

Later that year my mom had planned a family trip to go to Denver to see our grandparents. I really looked forward to our time with them. My mom had a friend named Lucy who was going to go with us. So, we all packed into the Cutlass convertible and drove 500 miles to Denver. When we arrived we were all excited to see our family there. Smelling the wonderful aroma of her homemade dinner rolls was incredible.

Shortly after we had arrived a man came to the door and my mom invited him in. She introduced us to him for the first time. She said that he was going to go with her and Lucy into the mountains for a few days. I felt so disappointed. This was our vacation together and mom was leaving us! But that’s the way it was, so arrangements were made for this stranger to stay the night at our grandparents house. Since I was the boy, it was decided that he would sleep with me in the double-bed in the guest room.

As I went to sleep that night, this strange man began to do strange things that included me. In the fog of sleepiness, I am not quite sure of the details but I knew he took my hand and used it to touch him in ways that were strange and shocking to me. When I woke up my first reaction was to wipe it away and excuse it as though it didn’t happen. Or, I thought, maybe it was something he had done in his sleep and didn’t know about it.

The next day they left for their three day trip and my grandparents took us on our own mountain tours, as they always did. We drove through the hills in my grandpa’s Turquoise, 1962 Chrysler 300 Two-door hard top. It became a typical fun time with them so it was a good trip. I just wished my mom had been with us rather than with this man.

Soon, the elation of the wonderful Oldsmobile, F-85, Cutlass convertible became a bad penny. The changing climate of my life had gone from a dream come true, to a dream that wouldn’t go away. No one ever knew about the interchange that occurred that night other than this strange man and me. I buried it into the recess of my mind and moved on.

About six months after our trip my mom sat my sisters and I down for a serious conversation. We never had those, so this was quite unusual. She merely wanted to ask if we were to have a choice, which man would we want her to marry, Mel or the Strange Man. By this time he wasn’t so unfamiliar to me. There were a couple of times he joined us at the bar but it just wasn’t the same as it was with Mel. He invited me to go on a ride on a great big train engine and my mother assured me it would be fun. So a few hours were clumsily spent with him and I couldn’t wait for the day to get over. You might imagine what our answer was. We were unified, “We want you to marry Mel, Mom”.

No more was said but one day I came home from school and the house was all rearranged. Not only didn’t I get my original room back, but my temporary room was dramatically changed and new furniture was moved in and a lock was placed on the door. I was shuffled to the basement into an unfinished room and couldn’t imagine what had happened.

The Strange Man moved in. The house rules changed to reflect his “On Call” job at the railroad. Everything that was familiar became unfamiliar. Our home became even angrier. Fear entered my heart as it did my sisters’. We didn’t get our choice, Mel was now gone and we never saw him again. We were trapped into our home with someone that very clearly didn’t like us. It seemed that their arguments always included his anger towards something related to “those kinds”.

1957 fairlane

1957 Ford Fairlane

Shortly after this man moved in, the convertible was gone and a 1957 Ford Fairlane four door had replaced it. I was so disappointed to see this utilitarian vehicle had replaced my “Rocket V-8″. It seemed it was a money thing. The Man brought along with him a White 1963 Ford Galaxie 500.

His ford didn’t have a Rocket Engine, it was sluggish because it had a special edition “Salesman’s Edition” economical engine. I think it was a Ford thing! I heard along the way that he didn’t like Oldsmobiles.

1963 Ford Galaxie

1963 Ford Galaxie

As the world around me began to crash we also found out that mom was pregnant. A few months later, she had a baby girl and we were all so excited to see her. I always wanted a new little sister or brother and now I had one!

We paid special attention to her and spoiled her because we really enjoyed having her around. Wendy brought a special light to our household in the midst of the challenges.  But my sisters’ joy of their high school years were snuffed out by the restriction of all of the new household rules. They had no social life or liberty. This brought me to become fearful of what was coming ahead for me.

The unfolding of my years of pre-pubescent development were laced with anger, confusion, fear, and seemingly invisible pain. I was living with a mom who seemed to not care at all what I needed or wanted. A man, who for all intents and purposes, had blown up our home with his own unresolved conflicts of life.

Memories of convertibles are still wonderful and I find my heart skip a beat when I see a particularly beautiful classic with its top down. 1965 Lincoln Continental’s are really special. And I can really get excited when I see a wonderful mid sixties Ford Thunderbird with a top that slides into the trunk like butter.

Ecclesiastes 3

A Time for Everything

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven:

a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot,

a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build,

a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance,

a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain,

a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away,

a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak,

a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.

Life brings with it joy and pain. The fulfilled dream of having the convertible in our family was a wonderful time to enjoy. Pain symbolized from the same special car became the nightmare that wouldn’t go away. Life continued on with my step-dad.  The conflicts never stopped. The fighting between him and my mom did not end until his death over 30 years later. I have learned that all of these memories are what make up who I am today.  Nothing is wasted in God’s economy.

When I look at the totality of my life experience, cars seem to span the years with fun times, wonderful excitement at their beauty, and hope that one day, in the twilight years of my life, maybe I’ll have a beautiful convertible that I can drive around to my heart’s content. If not, surely God has the very best waiting for me to drive on the “Streets of Gold”!

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