Normally the holiday postcard post at Writing Boots is Sharon McIntosh’s beautiful interview with her mother, about the Christmas her mother’s dad died. Gets me every time, so I don’t mind posting it every year. It is, as I’ve said, the perfect Christmas story.
But this year’s a teary nod to my own dad, who wrote for Chevrolet as creative director at GM’s agency Campbell-Ewald in the 1960s, and went on to write what he called “nostalgia pieces,” for a magazine called Car Collector.
Like most old-car rags, Car Collector focused on fenders and grills, soft tops and tail fins. My dad, whose oft-repeated advertising philosophy was that the world was not about products but about people, wrote about why old-car nuts were old-car nuts.
It was because cars were memory machines that, no matter how well they were running, transported their owners and passengers and sidewalk admirers reliably back to the springtimes of their lives. A few of the magazine’s readers complained that Dad’s essays took up valuable space that might have otherwise been devoted to the advent of the straight-six motor.
But most accepted them gratefully, as spiritual justification for their confounding, impractical and expensive “hobby.” They would slip my dad’s articles—even, eventually, his collection of the essays in a volume titled Tire Tracks Back—to their spouses.
Had to sell that machine around the time I turned 40—no way to drive my little kid around in it safely. The last day I drove it, I dropped the kid off at pre-school. “This truck is smelly,” Scout said from the backseat of the Scout. “But it’s a good kind of smelly.” And tear came to my eye.
And then, Charles Lindbergh-like, I drove that truck from Chicago to Cleveland, where I parked it in the in the driveway of my best friend’s brother, who had insisted upon buying it “to keep it in the family, because you named your kid after that truck!” But there it sat, for the next 14 years, neglected by the well-meaning pal, who had no real interest in the car, and plenty of more pressing things to worry about. In 2020, he died.
This last summer, my best friend decided to tow it to his own place eventually to get it into a garage. It was in terrible shape. All three pedals disconnected from their linkages. Seats rotted. A tree grown through the driver’s-side mirror. And not, thanks to a cat that had lived in it for sometime, a good kind of smelly.
On a visit to Cleveland this fall, I cringed at the sight of it. Then I sat in it. Then I muttered to myself, “I wonder if the engine’s frozen up.”
We’re talking to a guy.
“Anything can be fixed,” the guy said.
Oh God, but why?
The answer is contained in this year’s Chevrolet holiday ad.
Do I believe my dad wrote this, from the great beyond? No.
Do I believe he had something to do with it? Oh, yes I do.
Happy holidays, dear readers. I hope you share them with everyone you love—and everyone you ever loved.