With eight children at home, our family went through a lot of station wagons. I can recall several plain white models, and I’m sure there were a few wood-paneled editions along the way. We never used car seats or even seat belts. There was a lot of lap sitting. Honestly, we didn’t go a whole lot of places all together, and trips to church usually involved two cars.
My Dad once came home with a two seater convertible only to be met at the door by my Mom’s famous hands-on-hips look. I don’t think that little number lasted a week before it was replaced by yet another wagon.
I can recall tooling around town with my eldest brothers, who by today’s terms would be considered hippies. They would crank up the music on the a.m. radio as they made a trip to the grocery store for my mom, or took a younger sibling to a Little League game. I can't imagine the family wagon gave off quite the vibe they had in mind, and soon they started bringing their own vehicles into the driveway.
Then one day, after a few of my oldest siblings had moved on from the family nest, my Mom pulled up in a yellow, two-door 1973 Dodge Dart Swinger with a black soft top. I can still hear my incredulous brother announcing, “Mom got a SPORTS car!” A new, yellow car in our driveway was indeed the talk of the neighborhood.
Turns out 1973 Dodge Dart Swingers were very well-made cars, and after Mom moved on to a newer model, this beauty was passed down from sibling to sibling. Sure, they had to pump the brakes to come to a stop, and the interior smelled slightly noxious, but wheels were wheels. Along the way, something happened to the driver’s side door. Not mechanically-inclined, my brothers’ solution to this was to remove the back seat and hook a heavy chain from somewhere inside the door to a hook on the backseat floor. This required the driver to enter the car through the passenger side and also gave the car the nickname “General Lee.”
As my own 16th birthday approached, I began to pray for the Generals’ demise. “Please let the General die. Please let the General die.” I had actually imagined a whole birthday scenario which involved a new car and a large, red bow. On the morning of my birthday, my mother asked me to go out to the extra fridge in the garage to get some orange juice. “This is it,” I thought as I walked expectantly towards the garage door wondering what color my new car would be. I can’t begin to describe the disappointment of seeing the same old cars parked there, including that eternal, now-faded, yellow Dodge.
I was quite happy taking the bus (coincidentally the same color) to school; however, I had to drive the General Lee to work. Each and every time, I would forget about the door device, resulting in the chain coming loose, and a one-armed drive home as I held the door shut with my left arm, pumping the brakes, and hoping that I would not be seen by anyone I knew.
With very little fanfare and no mourning whatsoever, the General eventually did die, only to be replaced with a somewhat later model white Dodge Dart sedan. Though I had not thought it possible, the engineers in Detroit had actually come up with a car even uglier that the Swinger. Eventually, thankfully, Dodge stopped making the Dart line altogether. And every car I’ve owned since has been all the sweeter.