If you see a middle-aged man with a goofy grin on his face driving a black 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air around town, feel free to honk and wave. Yes, that deliriously happy man you see behind the wheel is me, and I will be glad to honk back using the brand new horn installed by Coty at Randy’s Auto Repair last week. I will also be able to bring the 4,000 pound classic car to a complete stop thanks to the new brakes Coty installed. That should make everyone in town happy.
A car can be labeled a classic when it becomes 20 years old. In 1977, when the iconic ’57 Chevy turned 20, I was a car-crazy first-grader, and the two door hardtop version of the ’57 was the first car I can remember falling in love with. Now, 40 years later, my life-long dream of owning one has finally come true.
I’d like to tell you that I worked like a dog and saved all my pennies for years and years in order to finance my dream. That would be a good story, but not nearly as good as the real story. The truth is that I have three women to thank for that beautiful classic car parked in my garage.
The first woman is my grandmother Jean Naughton, or as she is known to her grandchildren, “Grandma Sweetie Pie” or “Grandma Sugar” (depending on which grandchild you ask). Grandma is a car lover herself, a woman who bought a new car every other year for much of her life. Almost all of them were red—just like the two Volkswagen Beetles now being driven by my bride and my eldest child. Grandma drove until she was 90, and gave up her keys (and a fair amount of independence) with great reluctance.
When she sold her 150 year-old family farm to her cousin last year, Grandma gave each of her grandchildren a share of the proceeds. She did this instead of leaving us the money after her passing because she wanted to see us enjoy it while she was still alive. “Do something fun with it,” Grandma told me, “and don’t spend it on bills!” So you see my grandmother bought me my dream car—and the VWs for Bethany and Alex, too. When I called to thank her the other day, I could tell how happy the news had made her. Grandma is a car gal. She gets it.
Another car gal who “got it” was my mom Donna. Having watched her work in the car business since I was that impressionable first-grader, it was only natural that I would inherit her affinity for automobiles—and speed. Once, when Mom was driving my brother Blake and me around in her 1978 Datsun 280Z, I caught myself blurting out, “Mom, you’re doing 118!”
“And your point is?” she said while barreling down the highway, completely unaffected by her oldest son admonishing her from the passenger seat while her youngest child was curled up in the fetal position on the package shelf in back and having flashbacks to the time when he flew through the windshield of the VW bus she rolled on an icy bridge a few years earlier. As fast as she was behind the wheel, Mom was pretty slow to embrace the use of seatbelts.
The third woman I have to thank is, of course, my wife. Bethany has put up with my exhausting obsession with automobiles for over 20 years. Thanks to Bethany’s insistence years ago that we scrimp and save in order to become debt-free, Grandma Sugar’s farm money was used to pay for our family’s updated fleet and not for paying bills.
I’m glad I get to share my dream car with my family. The kids were almost as excited as I was when they saw me pulling it into our driveway for the first time the other day. I can tell Bethany is happy for me—and thrilled that my seemingly unending quest for a ’57 Chevy is at long last over.
I’m grateful to my wife and to my grandmother for their love, support, and generosity. And I’m thankful to be able to share my joy with them. As elated as I am, though, the feeling is bittersweet. I miss my mom. Man, she would have absolutely loved cruising in the ol’ Bel Air. It was one of her all-time favorite models, too—and not just because it didn’t come with seatbelts. (For my brother’s sake, I will have some installed soon.)
Thank you, ladies, and see you around town, Ashland!