Here it is, Labor Day weekend – America’s last great holiday weekend of the summer. A lot of families have planned fun and exciting getaways as they realize they’re not going have many more chances to take those great summer trips that they started planning last winter.  Most families seem to take to  the great open roads of our country in their reliable family cars to get to a final destination close enough to home where a jolly junket can fit into a 3-day weekend.  But, for me, with my really lousy holiday track record, it is just best to act like the whole weekend is like any other weekend (with the exception of a Monday off at the end!). 

In honor of the great American families who, hopefully, are having a blast bonding and driving somewhere they’ve been dying to go, here's a salute to something I can get excited about, like our cars.  One of my friends said she was really surprised that I haven’t written about my unique cars yet in this blog, and encouraged me to do so.  Her reasoning was because we name these cars (that we love) and the stories behind the names are rather light-hearted or even borderline comical.  You see, we treat our cars like most people treat their pets.

People who know me well know that I absolutely despise name-dropping, and that goes as far as the registered, copyrighted names of these vehicles.  Think about it – who hasn’t worked with the obnoxious, “up-and-coming corporate,” schmoozing lackeys who drop names about their possessions or what famous person they’ve met?  They wait until the most people are gathered someplace and then these poor co-workers stand there patiently listening as these boorish individuals say outrageous things.  In an actual conversation, someone once said somethings like, “Well, I was staying at the [insert name of a trendy resort] in Hawaii, wearing my new [insert favorite clothing designer’s name] shoes, and I turned around and met Keanu Reeves!” (As their poor office mates awkwardly stand there and collectively roll their eyes, clearly thinking, “I can’t believe this is happening again!”)  So, that is not the way we’re going to talk about my cars – their personalities transcend name brands, and hopefully, you can get a feel for why they got their names.

The whole “car naming” practice began many years ago when my husband bought a large, American-made pick-up truck from a friend of his late-father’s.  This friend had named the truck “Silver” because when it was new, it was painted in a beautiful silver metallic-flake paint.  Over a few years, the metal-flake finish got very weathered in the sun and wind, so the old friend decided to have the truck re-painted.  It cost more to get a metallic-flake paint than a solid-colored paint, so the friend had the truck painted battleship gray. Despite this, he still called the truck “Silver”.  This friend took as poor care of the repainted finish as he did the original metal-flake finish, and after a few years, the battleship gray color lost its gloss, looking pretty oxidized and chalky-appearing.  About this time in the truck’s history, my husband bought the truck from this friend. 

When my husband first brought the truck home, he told me what the truck had been named, and I just kind of looked at it with incredulity considering the truck’s appearance and its name – the two were completely incongruous.  While we were moving from Oklahoma to Arizona, my husband drove “Silver” out west to our new home, and I followed behind in a small sedan.  There were times “Silver” had a really difficult time climbing hills, especially at mountain passes in New Mexico.  Once on the trip when lumbering behind the truck as it struggled up a mountain road, it dawned on me the back of the truck, quite frankly, resembled an elephant’s derriere.  So, I started calling this truck “The Elephant”.  That stuck. 

In Arizona, we had a delightful family living near us, and their young daughters were so cute and so much fun with whom to spend time. I don’t know who were better friends to me– the girls themselves, or their mother.  But calling the truck “The Elephant” just captured their little imaginations and endeared that truck to the girls.  They would ask me, “Can we go for a ride with you in ‘The Elephant’”?  Being a soft-touch for very adorable children, I never said “no” to them!  And the girls acted like riding in “The Elephant” was the greatest thing in the world.  Their dad ALWAYS gave us permission to go for rides in “The Elephant” just so he could have a little peace at home for the 15 to 30 minutes we’d be riding around our community!

We bought another old car from one of my husband’s co-workers, and this car was named “Mary Agnes”.  When we asked why this car had that particular name, the lady who was selling it said that the car sounded just like her domestic partner’s Aunt Mary Agnes.  Sure enough, when we met this partner at a party, she did a perfect imitation of her Aunt coughing like she did each morning trying to get moving for the day, and it sounded exactly like the car trying to start.

But Mary Agnes had a nice, original interior, and she ended up as a donation to the American Cancer Society.  At the time, the Southern Arizona chapter would annually find project cars to fix up and raffle off to raise money.  By having volunteer auto-refurbishers donating their expert services, the ACS could raise more money with a “Classic Car” raffle than selling the cars outright.

Now, we have 5 vehicles because my husband’s love of old cars continued through the years and he started collecting older cars in good shape.  He says that his ambition is to have a collection of old cars and motorcycles like Jay Leno.  (One of his favorite shows to watch on the Internet is “Jay Leno’s Garage”.)  4 of our vehicles have names and he keeps resisting my name suggestions for the fifth vehicle (another gun-metal gray pick-up truck, but this is a small, Japanese-made truck that just keeps going and going). Since it is Japanese-made, I thought it should have a graceful, Zen-like name like “The Heron”, but that is really a hard sell with my husband. I’ve also suggested “The Old Gray Mare” (because she “ain’t what she used to be” as the old song goes), but he likes that name even less.

Later, he bought a 1949 “general all-purpose” 4-wheel drive vehicle like you see Hawkeye and Radar driving on the old “M*A*S*H” television series.  We named that vehicle “Old Willy” out of convenience when we’d be referring to it (which unfortunately, is derived from its name brand).  Well, that not only stuck with the neighbor’s daughters but it really resounded with my husband’s nephews and great-nephews.  The youngest great-nephew treats Willy like he’s a jungle gym – we can’t keep the little guy off of the vehicle!

I have had a 1995 little, red, Japanese-made sedan for years and it now has over 300,000 miles on it.  It is definitely the “little car that could” and it doesn’t act its age at all.  It was my car when I went back to college, and it was my car when I moved up to Nebraska for medical school.  It needs repairs every now and then, but once these are made, you’d never know from its performance that it was an old car.   However, looking at it, you’d think it was MUCH older than it actually is – Mary Agnes was in better shape than this one!  It didn’t have a name until a couple of Memorial Day weekends ago, which we came up with while we were hanging out with my husband’s rancher cousin, Floyd.  Floyd’s father, Lester, was estranged from the family, and he left his wife and sons a long time ago; so, there’s been a lot of hard feelings with that relationship.  When Lester died in 1995, many funeral and burial etiquette options were simply thrown out the window and not done as the family usually would, and Lester was buried in an unmarked grave.

Over this particular Memorial Day weekend, my husband and his mother were placing flowers on all of the family graves at their local community cemetery.  While there, my husband talked to the grounds keepers and discovered where Lester was buried.  In passing, my husband said something to Cousin Floyd that they found Lester’s burial site.  Cousin Floyd asked them to meet him at the cemetery to show him the location because he wanted to at least mark his father’s grave.  After taking care of this, the family came back to my late-mother-in-law’s house and we were just talking about all sorts of things when Cousin Floyd asked what year was our little, red car made.  We replied, “1995”, to which Floyd replied, “That’s the same year my father died.” 

My husband suggested we name the car after Lester in honor of him, and Cousin Floyd teared-up because he was genuinely touched.  But when our great-nieces heard that we were going to call the car “Uncle Lester”, they insisted we couldn’t use that name.  Their rationale was that the little, red sedan “is a girl car – you can just tell these things about cars!”  But we already told Floyd the car would be named after his father.  So, to compromise, this car was dubbed “Aunt Lester”.  Everybody was happy – it was definitely “a car named by family consensus.”

We inherited an older, nice, American-made pick-up truck from my husband’s late-step-father, who kept this truck in immaculate shape.  It is a gorgeous truck, if a pick-up can be gorgeous; my husband's late-step-father always liked looking very sharp!  Even when his late-step-father bought the truck, it was considered pretty fancy where people referred to it as a “Cowboy Cadillac”.  The interior is fairly luxurious and was more like that of a car made at that time than for a pick-up truck.  But "Cowboy Cadillac" is a long name (and it uses a brand name, which doesn’t even apply to it) so we decided that it needed something short but catchy.  It is a two-tone light and medium metallic-flake brown with lots of chrome, and the coloration was similar to that of an elk.  I thought we should call it “The Elk”, kind of in the same vein as “The Elephant”, but that name just “landed flat on the ground and kind of laid there” doing nothing sparking the imagination of the listener.  Since it was the same size as “The Elephant”, it was dubbed “The Moose” or just plain “Moose”, and it also looks like some huge animal’s hind end when viewed from the back!

Finally, we come to the wildest car of mine which was a phenomenal, low mileage, “cream-puff”, old, white sports car belonging to my parents because my wild father always had to have impressive, jazzy-looking cars.  While he is still living, he developed a health condition where he was no longer able to drive (which broke all of our hearts).  Of course, we’re not mentioning brand names, but it was the kind of car that was immortalized in a couple of “Beach Boys’” songs.  To say it is “a muscle car” would be an understatement!  It has a European-crafted 8-cylinder engine that makes the deepest, throatiest sound you’ve ever heard, and everything about it says “superiority” and “power”.  It reminded us of the 1980’s iconic television personality, “Mr. T.”, so that is what we named it.  Just like Mary Agnes, this car when it starts sounds just like the real Mr. T. when he was annoyed.  (Especially when the real Mr. T would say, “Whatcha talkin’ about, FOOL!?”)  Getting in the spirit of the name, my mom suggested we hang gold chains from the rear-view mirror.  Plus, my husband gave me a BeachBoys’ CD to blast from its stereo speakers while I have “fun, fun, fun” driving Mr. T. down the road.  

Having five old cars keeps us busy with maintenance, and all the local auto parts store personnel know us by name now.  And they always ask about Mr. T. when we stop in their stores.  But, we think it is a good past-time that we can share.  Here’s hoping that my readers will (someday?) have as much gaiety about their cars as we do now!


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