Tag Archives: 55 Chevy

’55 Chevys and Signs of Life in a Parking Garage

Joe LaRochelle's '55 Chevy, just like Mom used to drive.
Joe LaRochelle’s ’55 Chevy, just like Mom used to drive.

“Today your grandma would’ve been 96,” I said to my son Bill, who happened to be home for a visit July 3.

“Are you sad?” he asked.

“No,” I said, without really thinking about it one way or the other.

My mother will be gone 10 years in October. I have gotten used to not having her around, even though hardly a day goes by that I don’t think about what her advice might be on any number of life’s questions I’m left to internalize.

The rest of my day was typical – mostly work, some tidying up. At some point I realized that, with a Friday bank holiday, it might be a good idea to go get some euros for our upcoming international vacation.

It was getting late – around 4 p.m. The downtown Citizen’s bank has a convenient parking garage, which is usually pretty well occupied. But being the Thursday before a holiday at 4 p.m., I had my pick of parking spots. I turned into one of the first spots I saw on the ground level.

As I got out of my car I thought to myself that I needed to go up one level to get to the bank. There are stairs in the center of the garage, but I had parked near the ramp that goes up to the next level, so I just decided to walk up the ramp.

I should add that, in reality, I didn’t need to go up one level. I know this, but for some reason, my head told me otherwise.

Or maybe it was my heart.

As I rounded the corner I saw a green ’55 Chevy parked right in front of me. It was pretty much the only vehicle on that level. Had I not made a mistake about where I needed to go and walked up the ramp, I wouldn’t have seen it.

Without thinking about it one way or the other, I started to cry.

I was sad.

Sad because my mother purchased her green 1955 Chevy new, and it was for my entire life synonymous with her – even after she sold it in the early 1990s. Everyone knew my mom by her car.

I have seen ’55 Chevys from time to time out in the world, but usually at car shows and rarely painted in that familiar shade of green.

I walked over to the car and snapped a few photos – the hood ornament that looks like a minimalist silver airplane, the pointy tail lights, the silhouette that struck me at that particular moment as a green ghost of my childhood.

The windows were rolled down, so I moved close enough to see if the interior details were as I remembered them.  They were, only this car looked like new, inside and out, with the exception of a little rust on the rear bumper.

I took it all in for what seemed like way more than the two or three minutes it was in real time. I walked down the stairs and did my banking, and almost didn’t go back upstairs to see if the car was still there when I was finished.

But I needed to see it one more time.

I had the presence of mind to leave a note for the car’s owner under the windshield wiper, explaining how seeing that car on my mother’s 96th birthday was a special gift. I thanked him for being there.

Several hours later my phone rang. It was Joe LaRochelle, who identified himself as the owner of the car.

“Wanna drive it on your mom’s birthday?” he asked right away.

I didn’t hesitate.

“No. No, thank you – it’s pretty late,” I said, without looking at the clock – which I later noticed hadn’t quite reached 9 p.m. on the digital display.

Joe told me that he bought the car in 1982, only the second car he’d ever purchased in his life. He drives it all the time.

“I used to live in Manchester but I moved to Maine – I’m actually just here visiting my brother,” he told me.

“So, finding your car in Manchester on my mother’s birthday was really pretty random,” I said, matter-of-factly.

Joe and I talked a little more about his love of vintage cars.

“The only difference is that my mom’s car had a white top. I guess all the ’55 Chevys were mostly painted green, huh?” I said.

“No, they came in 100 different color combinations,” said Joe.

“Wow,” I said. “A hundred?”

I took down his number, and the address of his brother’s shop over on Massabesic Street, Jon’s Shafts & Stuff, in case I ever need a shaft, or other car related stuff.

I hung up the phone, half regretting not taking Joe up on the offer to go for a spin in the old ’55.

But as I internalized it all, I think my gut reaction came from the same place as my urge to walk up the parking garage ramp.

Sometimes in life we need an affirmation that everything is OK. Or that everything that isn’t OK, will be.  Sometimes it’s just enough to be reminded that as random and disconnected as life can seem at times, it’s really not.

Life means everything, even if we don’t always understand why we’re here, or where we’re heading. We just need to follow our heart and trust our gut, and look for the signs that help move us in the right direction when we need it most.

Screen Shot 2015-07-04 at 11.10.59 AMPostscript: July 3, 2015 – Tonight, while walking in downtown Manchester heading for the day-early fireworks, my husband pointed to this car parked on Elm Street. “Just like your mom’s!” he said, and sure enough, there it was, for the second consecutive year, a ’55 Chevy.

Some Unexpected Tears for a Glorious, Green Gal

My mom's old '55 Chevy.
My mom’s old ’55 Chevy.

My mother. The car.

No, it’s not the fragmented name of a situation comedy from the 1960s starring Jerry Van Dyke.

I’m referring to my own mother and her 1955 Chevy.

For years, the two were inseparable. Everyone who knew my mother knew her car – a classic green two-door Chevy with a white hardtop.

“Your mom still driving that green Chevy?” was always the No. 2 question people would ask me, right after the No. 1 question: “Is that your natural hair color?”

Sadly, the next time someone asks about that car, my answer – for the very first time since I was born a natural blonde – will be “no.”

The old green Chevy has been sold and is, as of last Thursday, parked someplace other than my parents’ Levittown driveway.

I’d heard Mom talk about selling the car before.  Usually after someone expressed interest in buying it – which was often.  In fact, my mother figured she’s had upwards of 50 – maybe closer to 75 – people leave notes, come up to her house or approach her in public with an offer for the old ’55.

So when I got the news last week that she’d sent Dad to the safe deposit box at the bank to dig out the title, something stirred in me.  I actually had an emotional response to the big old green hunk of steel.

I spent most of the 1970s being embarrassed by that car.  If I had to go someplace with my mom, I’d always keep an eye out for pedestrians who might recognize me.  And if I spotted one, I’d practically kiss the floorboard in my rush to get my head below the passenger side window and out of plain view.  My normal routine was to untie and then tie my shoes. Both of them.

My bonding years with that car occurred before I grew too cool to be seen in it.

For example, I was prone to earaches, so I spent a lot of time getting excused by the school nurse and picked up by Mom.  She’d drive me to the doctor’s office and the pharmacy – and then to the Acme for Mister Salty pretzels and a Tastykake. I have a lot of horizontal memories of that expansive backseat, my sore ear pressed to the green-and-white vinyl.

I know no one needs to justify the sale of a classic old car. But it had become temperamental.  Mom stopped driving it at least a year ago, after her daily trips to the supermarket were spoiled one too many times by a car that refused to take her home again.  The car had aged beyond functionality.  It had become just another old automobile – minus the mobile.

It was time.

But not before I took the opportunity last Wednesday to climb inside and pay my respects to the glorious green gal.

First thing I noticed was the exterior.  She had lost her shine. I climbed in the backseat and started playing with the ashtray cover, just like always. It still sounded the same, lifting the shiny, spring-action metal edge of the cover and – flip – letting it snap down again.  I cranked the window handle down and watched the familiar curve of window glass appear at the top.

Then I climbed up to the front seat.

I touched every single knob, turned the radio on and off a few times. When it worked, the radio always registered a faint hum first that grew louder until the static gave way to music.

I reached up and touched the ceiling.  Soft yellow dust fell, leaving a hint of my fingertip on the faded fabric.

This particular model car had a small vent window in the front – an escape hatch for cigarette smoke, I guess – with a fascinating little locking mechanism that I had forgotten about, but spent many hours of my life fiddling with.

So I sat there for one more minute, and fiddled.

I pressed the gas pedal.  I tried the clutch.  And before I got out of the car, I reached over and grabbed onto the little strap that hung off to the side near the backseat window.  My sister Jean and I never did figure out the reason for those straps.  Primitive safety belts, maybe.

We just knew there was one for each of us.  We could slip our hands inside and hang, just for fun.

Or for dear life, in the middle of a hairpin turn whenever Dad was driving.

For some reason, I was surprised by how frayed and rotted the fabric of a 40-year-old car strap could be.

But I held onto it, lingering for another second or two.  It felt like a secret handshake with a childhood friend who had grown too old too fast.

Through all of this, my youngest kids were waiting, asleep, in my car parked in my mom’s driveway.  So I slammed the heavy green door in a hurry and made a run for it. I noticed the wind was kicking up at that same moment.

And I’m glad.  Because otherwise my hair wouldn’t have flown across my face just as Mom leaned out the front door to wave goodbye, and she probably would have seen my unexpected tears, the ones that lasted the whole ride home.

Originally published in the Bucks County Courier Times, spring 1995.