The mystique of owning four wheels (5) (1)
Archived Articles 19 Oct 2007 Arved PlaksEWR
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In the fall I enrolled in Danbury High School, which was almost across the street from where we lived. At night I continued to work in the hat factory. After work I often picked up a Latvian girl (Stacey) who worked in a jewelry store. We drove to an uninhabited street and talked endlessly. I don’t remember about what. But in time the passenger seat’s back no longer stayed vertical, and I had to partially support it with an empty fruit crate. Yes, we necked, but never went “over the line”. The lesson: a car can have many purposes.

My mother continued to work for a while at a furniture store where her job was to dust. Because the bus stop was almost in front of our home, she was able continue to work for a while. The high steps of the bus entrance became a problem. But when she blacked out momentarily at the store, and caused an expensive lamp to fall and break, she was asked to quit. She became increasingly more home bound. I drove her several times to New Haven Grace Hospital for checkups. This was a 32-mile drive and my car lacking windows required her to bundle up in blankets. The hospital charged $7 for each visit. We were finally told that there was no point in bringing her there since they could not do anything for her. She became home bound except when my father and I brought her down the steep stairs to the sidewalk for a stroll. In 1954 she was hospitalized and died in the fall in a Newtown hospital from kidney failure.

In the summer of 1951 my father learned to drive and bought a 1941 Pontiac. Initially I tried to teach him, but it does not work when a family member teaches another. He let me drive it too. It was much more comfortable and it had windows! The gearshift was no longer on the floor but on a shaft. I recall driving it a lot. I often drove aimlessly in the city; it had therapeutic value. It may have had to do with the sad state of health my mother was in.

When I went to the University of Connecticut in the fall of 1951 I had to leave my car behind. Freshmen and sophomores were not allowed to have a car on campus. I let a boy use my car while I was in school. He said he wanted to try it out. I was very surprised when on returning from school for a weekend I was summoned to the police station in Bethel. I was told that my car had sideswiped a couple of mailboxes leaving the hood behind. The police chief said I would be responsible for the damages, and I could be arrested. How is that possible, when I had not done any of this damage? Another lesson learned: that the owner of the car and not the offending driver can be held responsible. But no one demanded restitution and I got my hood back. Retrieving the car was a problem since the fuse for the starter was blown. The boy showed me then how to use tinfoil to get the car started.

Subsequently I sold the Ford for a small sum. But I learned a lot from having this car. First of all that I was not very mechanically inclined, secondly, without a car it is hard to get dates, thirdly with a car one can develop friendships that last a life time, fourthly, that if you don’t know what you are doing with a car, you can sink a lot of money into it, and finally, it confirmed what I knew even before acquiring the Ford, that a car still meant freedom, but it comes with responsibilities.

A.P. March 26, 2007
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