Our 1979 maroon Ford Thunderbird was my favorite car. I'm not sure what draws me to this particular automobile from the many we had in my childhood; perhaps it was the giant bench seats where I could sprawl out with my sister and the two of us could sleep on long car trips, or maybe it was the completely non-functional slanted window in the backseat that had the little white line painted in it of the Thunderbird logo, or maybe it was the super cool flip open headlights that would freeze during the harsh Minnesota winters and send my father on a tirade of swearing that would make a sailor blush.
Or, then again, it may be because of how we lost the Thunderbird.
My father and I drove eight hours from our house in Minnesota to my grandmother's house in far northeastern Wisconsin. She had decided to get rid of her furniture, and my mother decided she must have it. The year was 1985, and it was a hot summer month, probably July.
My father had rented a U-Haul trailer to hitch to the back of the car, and we loaded it up with a sofa, a loveseat, and two rocking chairs--all upholstered in lime green plaid ornamented with mustard yellow roses. We started the trek back across the state on the dreaded highway 29 or 21--I cannot remember which, but I know it was a two line highway that we were on for almost 7 hours, and now, in 2012, it is four lanes and a car can zoom at 65 mph instead of 55 and 45.
I sat in the back and read Peanuts books that I had taken out of my grandmother's attic; I loved Charlie Brown, and still do. Even though that Thunderbird was the size of a small yacht, it could not take the weight of the furniture hitched to the back. Smoke billowed out of the engine as we pulled over on the exit leading to Cadot, Wisconsin.
With no gas station in sight, and cell phones not having been invented, my father and I stood on the side of the road and watched smoke fume out of the hood of the car in anger.
A stranger in a pick-up truck arrived and offered to take us to his place to call the local garage owner who would look over the car for us. Remember, this was 1985, people hadn't lost complete faith in one another yet; so the two of us jumped into this old Chevy truck and headed into the town of Cadot.
Being 9 at the time, I don't know the adult conversations that ensued as we stood in some stranger's kitchen. What I remember is how this man's refrigerator was filled with plastic letter magnets in a rainbow of colors, and how I really, really wanted to play with them and make words but I didn't want to ask because I thought it would be rude and stupid--there was a crisis going on, no time for playing.
Remember, this was 1985, kids hadn't entirely lost their manners or imaginations yet.
The local mechanic showed up in some classic car, black in color, with giant orange flames on the side. It was so shiny and clean, unlike the corpulent man who rolled out of the driver's seat. He had come from our Thunderbird, said he would store our U-Haul, and he would buy the car for it's remaining parts/scarp, but otherwise there was no saving it.
My father took the cash--Memory tells me it was $50, but my father on the phone remembers $75. Whatever it was, it was enough to buy us Greyhound tickets to get back to Minneapolis.
The man in the pick-up truck drove us to the bus station. I have no idea where the bus station was, nor do I remember how long it took to drive there. I do, however, vividly remember the inside of that bus station.
Everything was seafoam green. There was a video game in one corner, Donkey Kong, and vending machines. Having not eaten all day, my father gave me 50 cents to buy something--I bought Junior Mints because I liked mint and I liked to squish them on the roof of my mouth with my tongue. Using this technique would slow down my eating and increase my enjoyment and create the facade of having my hunger satiated.
Besides me and my father, the only other people in the room were an Amish couple. The man was eating Funyuns. I hadn't never seen Amish people before; my father, who can talk to anyone, was engage in a conversation with the man who was dressed all in black with a flat brimmed black hat on. His wife sat further away, crying quietly, completely silent. The man and my dad were discussing schooling and children, since my father was a high school gym teacher, he liked to bring it up as a conversation starter--everyone has been to some sort of school, so it would create a shared interest right from the start.
The Amish man talked about discipline and the importance of hitting the Devil out of his kids; I was 9, the man horrified me.
But, he did offer me some Funyuns, which I took and ate, even though I can not stand Funyuns--but I didn't want him to think me disrespectful.
I'm not entirely sure why an Amish couple was in the bus station, and I don't remember if they rode the bus with us, or if they were waiting for the arrival of someone--but, what I do remember is the Amish man gave my father some money..just because of our hard luck with the Thunderbird. He also gave me a quarter, because I was a quiet, obedient little boy.
It wasn't until we got on the bus that I asked my dad what "obedient" meant. Back in Minneapolis, one of my father's colleagues had to pick us up from the bus station because my mother refused to drive into the city. It really was quite the journey, but from it all, it is really the strangers who stand out.
The Amish man who gave my father all the cash he had carried with him to the bus station, the mechanic in the black shiny car who came out on a Sunday--his day off--to tow our smoking Thunderbird to his garage--free of charge and to give us some cash up front for the parts, and the man in the pick-up truck who get us situated and allowed my dad to call long distance to my mother and got us to the bus station. These are the people I remember, and this is why the Thunderbird will always be my favorite car: It showed me the potential goodness of men