A new appreciation

By Kathy Oswalt-Forsythe

I didn’t grow up with a fascination for or love of cars. For my family, automobiles served to get us from one place to another. Vehicles were taken care of—oil changed, tires rotated, annual tune-ups—but we didn’t spend time washing and waxing our various rides.

Folks rarely ate in their cars in those days. There were no built-in cup holders or fast-food drive-throughs. People ate at home and seldom even snacked in their cars. When traveling, the families I knew packed a cooler or picnic hamper and stopped at rest areas or roadside parks to enjoy some fresh air and a meal.

The first car I remember was a 1963 Falcon. It was blue with some very modest tail fins. We slid back and forth on the slippery back seat as our parents navigated the roads and turns to town. There were no seat belts or car seats. I remember a contraption that held our busiest brother in place between my parents in the front seat. I doubt it was designed for safety—just for the sanity of parents with active children. After the Falcon came a series of station wagons with a fold-down bench seat which accommodated our growing family.

I grew up with friends who had some nice cars: Scotty had a sporty red car and obsessively polished and cared for it; Sue drove a Volkswagen “Thing” during her senior year; and Rick drove a Corvette which certainly stood out in the student parking lot.

It felt different riding in those cars — they were flashy and got lots of attention from other motorists.

Most of us, if we were lucky enough to have access to some wheels, drove old cars or trucks: my friend Leeanne drove a VW hatchback we regularly had to push to start; our friend Anne drove a huge Checker sedan that filled a space and a half in any parking lot; and my brothers and I drove my grandmother’s hand-me-down Impala. We were thrilled to have it. In fact, the pea-green 4-door we referred to as “the green bomb” got me through college.

When our kids earned their drivers’ licenses, we provided an old car built like a tank, a bright yellow 1976 Catalina. Eventually, the heavy passenger door stopped latching and would swing open when rounding corners. Our son, filled with pre-teen angst, crouched in the back seat and demanded his sisters drop him off at the middle school at least a block away. In mock elections, the “yellow boat” won “class clunker” two years in a row. As you can imagine, I was not sympathetic.

Today, I am still very frugal and practical about cars. I drive a 2011 Impala. It’s in great shape, and I plan to keep it until it drops.

Even now, l don’t desire an expensive or even new car, but I have begun to appreciate automobiles, especially models from the past.

I used to dread or avoid downtown Vicksburg during the Old Car Festival. It is usually hot and humid, and I wondered how people could be so interested in these cars with sweat rolling down their faces and backs. And sitting by one’s collectable car all day in that heat? Unimaginable.

So, it has taken me a while to understand this commitment. Several years ago, we visited the Studebaker National Museum in South Bend. I entered with a good attitude because it was something my husband really wanted to do. I planned to appear interested in the hours it would take to walk and look at cars. I knew we would pause at every vehicle—read every plaque and sign.

But I loved it. The vehicles were stunning and painstakingly restored; the exteriors were flawless, the interiors pristine. Several exhibits presented prototypes and explained ground-breaking innovations and the extensive testing involved. That visit helped me understand auto enthusiasts’ passion for beautiful designs and engineering.

Nowadays, I look forward to visiting Vicksburg’s Old Car Festival in June. Next week, I’ll have my hat, water bottle, and new-found appreciation ready!

It’s a Fine Life

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