When I was a little girl, we had the same black and white, two-door car, just packing in one more child each year, getting more and more crowded. We never named our cars, like some people do. Heck, Mom and Dad had enough trouble naming all the kids; but we kept that car around long enough to feel like they were part of the family. Dad decided one day that it was time to get a brand, spanking new car: a station wagon. Now maybe Julie could get a little space; she hated to be touched and was all the time squealing, “Don’t touch me,” especially in the summer, which was near impossible to do with five kids squeezed together into the back seat, one in the middle front, and Frankie on Mom’s lap.
Dad took all us Magpies to look for a new car. He loved taking us places like that ’cause he could count on somebody’s mouth getting all round and surprised looking and saying something like, “Are these all yours?” Dad was always telling people he had three or four more at home, or another one in the oven, which I knew was a lie, but I didn’t think it counted as a sin. Sometimes, he said something different, like “That’s what I’m told.” Once in a while people said Bonita was the Milkman’s ’cause she was the only one with dark brown hair the same color as walnuts. That was pretty silly, ’cause we didn’t buy milk, Dad brought it in from the barn, so any way you looked at it, Bonita was his. Besides that, Bonita was Dad’s favorite girl, sometime she called her Spider because she had long legs. I had super short legs, study like tree-trunks, Grandma liked to tell me. I think she thought that was a good thing.
The new cars had all kinds of fancy stuff. Like carpet: Dad said that was ridiculous. Who wants to have carpet all soiled by muddy shoes, or have snow dragged in on it? Whoever thought of that idea was nuts, or had way too much money to spend. Besides, without carpet we could sweep the car out really quick with a whisk-broom, no problem; with carpeting, we’d be dragging the Electrolux vacuum sweeper out and then finding a big, long extension cord to plug it in. I had to agree with Dad, that sounded like way more trouble that it was worth, especially since sometimes I got the job of sweeping out the car.
Power-brakes, power-steering and power windows, were some other thing we could get. For Pete’s sake, how weak were these people buying new cars, they can’t even roll down a window? Maybe they were just lazy and wanted to steer with two fingers. My Dad was plenty strong, he didn’t need these city-slicker, extras that just cost money and eventually needed fixing.
We looked at tons of station wagons; some even had a third seat in the way-back. That was another extra, we didn’t need. Dad said we sat on the floor all the time watching TV, we could be just as happy sitting on the floor of the way-back, that’s for sure. The salesman said, “What about when your pretty little girls are all dressed up for church on Sunday?” Dad had an answer for that: he just flipped back the cover to the secret storage well, underneath the way-back, scooped Bonita and Vickie up there lickety-split, legs in the well, butt on the flip-top door. “There you go, just as good as any seat,” Dad said, looking as proud as if he invented those fold-away seats the other station wagons had. The salesman had no argument to offer Dad on that one.
Another salesman man dressed up in a blue suit and skinny tie, like he was going to church, made the mistake of kicking the white walls of our black and white car; the one we had for as long as I could remember. I saw pictures of the car Mom and Dad had when they got married, and I think it was the same one, only maybe not, ’cause that one was super shiny and no dents. The Man said, “Here’s what I’ll give ya for that old thing as a trade-in,” and he pulled a pencil and pad out of his pocket, wrote something and gave the paper to Dad. Dad took a look at that paper and then at the man, and didn’t say one word; he just bit down hard on his own back teeth until his jaw bones stuck out at the side of his face. He wadded that paper up and threw it down hard, right on that man’s oxblood polished shoe, then turned around and walked right to our car without looking back once. I looked back though; that man just stood there with his face all slack-jawed, straightening his pens in his pocket, like that was the most important thing in the world to do.
Dad got the best deal on a white station wagon; white was good, ’cause it didn’t show the dirt too much. I was going to have a new job: car washing. Like I said, my Mom and Dad were experts at thinking up jobs for kids.
That station wagon had no options: no carpet, no power steering, no power brakes, no power, windows, no third seat, no radio. We didn’t need a radio, when we could all sing just fine. The back seat windows had a new safety feature, that was an extra at no charge: they only went down half-way, that was so it was harder for kids to fall out. I never heard of any kids really falling out of car windows, but Mom was always telling me to keep my hands and head in the car, or they might get pulled off by a mailbox or another car whizzing by. I kinda thought she was just making that up, ’cause I never heard of that really happening either, still it was one of those things I was afraid to test.
When I think of all the safety features required for kids in cars, seat-belts and airbags, and the extra like CD, DVD players, activity centers, blue-tooth, navigation systems, and built-in cup holders, I wonder how my parents managed to get us all to adulthood without incident. They never lost a one of us. Well, they did have to turn around and go back and get one of us on occasion, but that’s another story altogether.