Ancient History

Follow Me?



My family owned a 1971 Pinto for nearly ten years. Many rank the Pinto as the worst car manufactured in the 1970s. In my opinion, the Gremlin and the Pacer nudge it out by a rust-eaten bumper, but it isn’t far behind.

My parents bought it used. I loved that car. It was apple red, with bucket seats covered in black and white flecked fabric and cigarette burns from when my dad drove. The sun visor had a thick stack of carbon receipts from Chevron, signed by my mom as she sat in the driver’s seat holding a tiny clipboard.

We went on errands to buy Buster Brown shoes, to the doctor, to Jack in the Box on taco sprees, to the big bank of money and lollipops. I doubt I was buckled in much. Those were the days when kids hopped from the back to the front and back again. When I was about nine or ten, I was allowed to do a very special job as we drove. Sitting in the front passenger seat, I got to shift the gears.

My mom taught me how to listen for the variables in the engine and watch her foot. When she pressed on the clutch, it was my cue to go from first to second. Second to third. Third to fourth. Red light ahead, time to downshift. At first, she kept her hand on mine, making sure I wouldn’t try to skip a gear or slam the car into reverse. Then she trusted me enough to make me her little co-pilot.

I didn’t always shift the Pinto gears. Sometimes I sat in the back, or simply didn’t want to. That was okay with my mom, too.

When I got my first car, it was a stick shift. I was well-familiar with RPM and what makes a car go vrrrrroooommm, so it was easy to drive. When other teenagers were stalling out on one of Grand Junction’s hillside intersections, I did not.

It’s hands and feet, working in harmony to ensure the gears change seamlessly.

I wish I could say my mother and I always had a relationship marked by excellent timing, teamwork, sunny days with the windows rolled down and Donna Summer on the AM radio. Sometimes it was noisy and we grated on each other.

My parents sold the Pinto to a man from the fire department when I was around twelve-years-old. I don’t remember being sad or nostalgic about it. A newer car replaced it in the street. The cars came and left, a succession of metal, rust, and mortifying embarrassment in the case of a 1967 Dodge pickup with a gun rack and a bumper sticker that read “Ask First To Hunt or Fish on Private Land!”

Then one late-spring day in 1987, a car brought freedom: solo-me, shifting, windows down, FM radio blaring The Pet Shop Boys.

Thanks, mom. You taught me how to drive.

Happy Birthday.

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