David Carlson: Old cars hold special place in memory

David Carlson: Old cars hold special place in memory

In looking through old photos recently, I came across one with our car in the background. The photo brought back a flood of memories of all the good times we had in that car.

Given all the memories we have with our automobiles, it isn’t surprising that cars can seem like family members. It’s also not surprising that many people give names to their cars and, yes, even talk to them at times.

When my wife and I were first married, we each had a used Corvair. I can’t remember if we named those cars, but we should have called them “Nadermobiles,” in honor of Ralph Nader who campaigned to get those dangerous vehicles off the road. Later we had a VW Beetle, which not surprisingly became known as the Green Bug.

Many years later when our younger son had learned to drive, I asked him which car he intended to take to his summer job. Without hesitating, he said, “I’ll take Silver Destiny.” When I asked what in the world he was talking about, he told me that was the name he’d given to our older car. I never did understand how a rusty automobile had earned such a regal title, but the name stuck until the car died.

My wife’s and my favorite name for a car is associated with our three years of graduate studies in Scotland. Initially, we relied on bus and train travel but wanted greater mobility to explore the Scottish highlands or cities like St. Andrews and Edinburgh. The car was a Triumph Herald, not a vehicle available in the States and one that was quite a tight fit for someone my size.

The most impressive feature of the car was its beautiful solid wood dash. The most worrisome aspect of the car was the extensive rust. It was quite a surprise the first time we looked down and saw the passing road underneath the car through holes in the floorboard.

With a car named a Herald, you can understand why we had to name her “Hark,” as in “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.” Hark gave us reliable transportation for our forays to other parts of Scotland, but there came a time when we faced a decision. We’d been invited to serve as instructors for a group of American college students who that summer would be travelling through Europe and the Middle East. The opportunity was too good to pass up, but we needed to make our way to Italy to meet the group. Would Hark survive the nearly 1,500 mile trip, a trip that included crossing the Alps and negotiating the scary urban traffic in English, French, and Italian cities?

To our relief, Hark kept right on chugging, taking us finally to the southern Italian port town of Brindisi, where we had to leave her on a side street and travel with the student group for several weeks in Greece and Israel.

Our parting with Hark in Brindisi was a sad one, as we’d been warned that the city’s youth had a reputation for stripping down cars left on its streets. I remember taking one last look at Hark’s rusty exterior when we said goodbye. It was as close to a funeral for a car as I’ve ever experienced.

I didn’t think much about Hark in the fascinating weeks we were in Greece and Israel. But when we were on the ferry returning to Brindisi, I mourned again Hark’s likely fate.

I know my wife and I will never forget the shock of seeing Hark sitting exactly where we’d left her. The only change was a coating of dust that covered the car. Perhaps, we thought, Brindisi didn’t deserve its bad reputation. Or perhaps, the youth of Brindisi took one look at Hark and decided the car wasn’t worth stripping.

A week later, just before we flew back to the States, we handed Hark over to fellow grad students who’d come down from Scotland to France for a holiday. I’m happy to say that Hark gave our friends two more years of faithful service. When our friends left Europe, I assumed Hark went to where all cars eventually end up.

To this day, when we see a Triumph Herald in an old British movie, we call out, “Look, it’s just like Hark!” We like to think that somewhere, perhaps in some scrapheap, Hark knows that we remember her.