I first thought that buying a brand new car as a gift for someone was pure fiction, only I also read about how companies actually make the gigantic bows that adorn the hoods of these gift cars. Dealerships hold onto the cars (which have been purchased as gifts) and then place them in the driveway of the lucky recipient on the day they are to be given.
I have never given, or received, such an extravagant gift. However, it made me think back on the cars I have bought for myself or, occasionally, received.
There was my first car — a red 1971 Ford Pinto with a stick shift — which I bought myself for $75. True, it had a slight problem: a right front headlight which, thanks to a car crash by a previous owner, pointed off to the side of the road. But it had wheels, and it got me to and from work, even though its motor always made a soft tick-ticking sound every time I drove it.
The next car I also bought myself. It was a blue Chevy Vega wagon which I bought from my boss at the time for $750. He made sure I knew how to change a tire before I drove it all the way to Boston and back. It was a fine car; its name was Betsy. I’m not sure why I got rid of it.
Then came two cars which were, essentially, gifts. The first one was grey; I’m not sure what it was, but it was a very plain car. It was not brand new. Perhaps my parents had bought it new, but by the time I got it, it had already been my brother’s and then he got another car. So my parents sold it to us for $200. I named it after my brother: the Edmobile.
By this time, we had several children, and my in-laws gave us a larger car, which had been theirs. We were driving it to the airport in Columbus when it broke down on I-71. We didn’t make it to the airport that day; in fact, we had to stay overnight at a hotel, getting another flight the next day, while the people at the garage tried (unsuccessfully) to fix it. But before we got to the hotel, I remember spending several difficult hours at the gas station with my four young children, desperately trying to keep them entertained in a small space. A woman I met there took pity on me and helped by spending a little time reading to them. It turned out she had graduated from the same Massachusetts college I had. Small world.
Anyway, my in-laws, upon hearing this had happened, must have felt guilty for providing us with that car, so they gave us a substantial down payment toward our first actual new car — probably to protect their grandchildren from another broken down car disaster. I remember it was quite a step up in the world: no bent headlight; no chance it would break down — brand new! Trustworthy at all times!
That was many years and many cars ago. There was the cool Ford station wagon with the trunk that turned into a back-facing extra row of seats. There were several minvans which were used to transport our children and their friends and their equipment to various sporting events.
Now, we don’t need minivan-size vehicles anymore. I listen with interest as my son struggles with needing a car that will fit two rather large car seats in the back for his two little ones. They are very strict about always having their children buckled into car seats. I remember my parents placing a small mattress in the back seat of their car for us when they went on long drives. No one would hear of doing that now.
This past Christmas, perhaps you received a brand new car in your driveway with a gigantic bow on it. If so, lucky you, and I don’t mean to disparage that type of expensive gift. But me? I still remember the thrill of buying my own first car for $75, the pride of knowing I could change a tire and the pleasure of owning my first brand new car that I knew would not surprise me by breaking down. Not for a while, anyway.
Debbie Leffler is a free-lance writer who lives in Norwalk. She can be reached at [email protected]