The sunlight filtered through the side window of the empty garage as the overhead door slowly greeted the ground. Not since 1958 has this one-car garage been so devoid of personal belongings. A few miscellaneous bumper stickers, edges curling, still clung to the pegboard and a Suzuki motorcycle ad torn from a magazine back in the early 1980s decorated the area over my old workbench, the last few witnesses to changing times.
Through the 1960s and '70s, neatly parked bicycles with banana seats and chrome fenders, representing independence for my brothers and me, shared this space with yard games and dad’s tools. This same concrete floor was occupied by motorcycles in my teenage years after my older brothers moved out and moved on. Eventually my mother reclaimed the storage for her vehicles aided by the garage door opener my buddy Dave and I installed back in high school, a used but functional older model his father removed from another residence in the course of an upgrade.
Sixty-three years ago, my parents followed the sprawl of Boston, west to the suburbs where my father and uncle opened a pharmacy, eventually acquiring a diminutive yellow BMW Isetta for deliveries, as far as I can remember, the one vehicle he ever owned that I wished I was old enough to share. My mother drove a 1954 Chevy Bel Air convertible that my father wrecked one winter day in 1965, on his way to work, an accident I don’t believe my mother ever forgave.
The history of mom’s vehicles is spotty since I’m the only household member who ever took interest in such things but piecing together family folklore and fuzzy recollections I recall an early 1960s vintage Chevrolet station wagon in white and quite possibly the car that brought me from the hospital nursery to my small, shared bedroom at the other end of this ranch style house.
A turquoise 1970 Chevy Kingswood station wagon was next, and I have clear memories of riding in the way back, surrounded by metal and glass with the possibility of ejection in an accident acting as a passive safety measure. When my father discovered camping and the wonders of a Starcraft tent trailer, this was the car pressed into towing duty. Another automotive gaff that cost him in harsh words and hurt feelings. Life lesson: Never install a hitch on your estranged wife's car without asking first.
This judgment faux pas might have paved the way for my mother to finally get a small two-door coupe, as it was considered then, in the form of a 1973 Chevrolet Malibu, her “grocery getter.” This car would be bounced around between her and my next brother who needed reasonably reliable transportation to get to and from college some distance away and out of state. I eventually inherited the Malibu after my brother kicked off his career with a new car, a Mercury Lynx in 1983.
With gasoline prices spiking, mom splurged on a new economy car. By then it was only her and me in the house and she was able to work a full time job. Her choice for a commuter was a metallic brown 1980 Datsun 310GX, a jaunty front-wheel-drive hatchback.
A few years hence, with my motorcycle gone, the victim of a foolish young and not so invincible rider, the garage would finally fulfill its intended design and house that little Datsun, the first of mom’s cars that would never spend another night outdoors. And that foolish motorcycle rider didn’t limit his stunts to two wheels. Mom’s Datsun got away from me one snowy night while home from college, my partner in hijinx, Dave, in the passenger seat, and we learned quickly the effect granite curbing had on thin metal suspension parts.
Dave wisely chose a chilly walk home to avoid the wrath of my mother. Another life lesson learned: There is no statute of limitations when finally coming clean on the circumstances surrounding mom’s damaged car.
When the Datsun started getting long in the tooth, my oldest brother took it over and saw it through its final days. My next brother handed down his lightly used Lynx, payback for use of the Malibu perhaps when that was the best car the family had to choose from.
Despite Ford’s touting the Escort/Lynx as a quality “world car,” it didn’t live up to the hype and after the premature need for a new carburetor, timing belt, and head work, it went away in favor of a new 1990 Honda Civic sedan, the last car that fit comfortably in the garage and the last manual transmission car mom would own, driving it into retirement.
Time and gravity eventually necessitated a taller vehicle and the Civic gave way to a new 2004 Honda CR-V and, following a rear end collision, it was replaced by a new 2014 Honda CR-V. Despite mom’s advanced age, she was still able to back it in the garage with barely enough room to get by, impressing even my daughter.
My mother moved to be closer to my brother and has given up driving by choice which gives me some peace of mind. And as I stood there and watched her car drive away for the last time, the garage door settled to the ground, closing the final chapter.
Eric and Michelle Meltzer own and operate Fryeburg Motors, a licensed, full-service automotive sales and service facility at 299 Main St. in Fryeburg, Maine. More than a business, cars are a passion, and they appreciate anything that drives, rides, floats or flies.