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First car memories bring laughs now, horrors back then

At a friend’s 40th birthday party last month, I overheard a conversation about another friend and her car. This vehicle was on its last leg, but for some reason was very valuable to someone else at our table.

I thought perhaps I had enjoyed too much wine, but as I listened to the conversation, I realized I had heard correctly. Friend A had a car that was possibly not going to make it through the winter. Friend B was begging for her to hold on just a little longer.

You see, Friend B has a teenage daughter and this teenage daughter is on the verge of getting her drivers license.

Like most teenagers, this girl was talking with her parents about the kind of car she would like to drive. A new Cadillac Escalade was what she was thinking, but her parents were thinking a little more along the lines of Friend A’s car; a VW Rabbit that -- with a little TLC and some time in the shop -- would be the perfect first car.

Remembering the first car


I’m not going to come down too hard on this teenager because I remember being in her shoes. I was the oldest kid in our family so I had no idea that when the newest driver needed a car, a NEW car wouldn’t be in the future. Oh, I had dreams of something zippy and red with an awesome stereo, but my Dad had other thoughts. He wanted to keep me safe from myself and all the other "bad drivers" out there, so his vision of a car was more along the lines of "big, slow and old."

I remember it well, it was the summer of 1982 and I finally had my learners permit. Time to go shopping for my first car! We went shopping all right and it was a pretty quick trip. We walked across the farmyard to my grandparents' house and there sat my new wheels: A 1971 Buick LeSabre. It was brown with a light tan interior and a super sweet AM/FM radio. The car smelled exactly like a combination of my Grandpa’s hair cream and my Grandma’s dusting powder. I was horrified, but something strange happened as I slid behind the wheel. I thought the first word that ALL toddlers learn, "mine."

It wasn’t pretty, but it was my new responsibility, my new symbol of growing up and I loved it.

Brown Bomb

The Brown Bomb could fit 11 kids comfortably…OK 10 if I needed to be able to turn the wheel. Through God's good graces, I made it safely through those teenage years.

Anyway, back to Little Miss and her Escalade dream/Rabbit reality. That night we started talking about what makes the perfect first car. This car must be at least 10 years old, it must be cheap and you must be embarrassed to be seen in this car. It must make you suffer enough that you will appreciate your second car when you are older. As my friend Sue says, you have to be able to tell your kids "You wouldn’t believe the piece of junk I drove for MY first car."

Sorry kids, that’s just the way it is!

If you had a Dad like mine you were also required to learn how to check the oil, pump the gas and change the tires before you could head out on the highway.


When I think about my friend who is getting ready to deal with the reality of having a kid that can drive, it makes me think about how nerve-wracking that whole situation must have been for MY parents…and grateful that it’s still a handful of years until my daughter starts making her first car request.

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