Every year around this time, my local television station advertises custom floor liners for cars and trucks. Maybe it’s the muddy weather. Maybe it’s because people begin to think about buying new cars. Maybe they say, “never again” as they try to clean the salt and residue from car carpets.
I always think of Dad.
When I was a little girl, our car never had carpet.
“Who wants carpet in a car?” Dad said when a dealer offered a free upgrade. “Nine kids crawling in with their wet and muddy boots. What a crazy idea.”
Dad took us all with him when he went car shopping.
“Are those all yours?” the salesman eyes bulged.
“Three more at home,” Dad loved the look that created. That’s when I learned the difference between a joke and a lie. Jokes make people laugh; lies trick people out of crying. Later, at church, a priest said lies are untruths that people deserve to know. You might think I made that up, but for sure I’m telling the truth. For one thing, that priest told the same sermon twice in one year. For another thing, I have a super-good memory.
White lies trick people from crying for things that might just hurt their feelings, like the time I told Bonita that no one could tell she wet her pants laughing so hard on the Scrambler. Black lies trick people into crying for things that are going to make them cry eventually anyways, like telling somebody they got all their spelling words right, when they missed at least half.
We had a black and white Chevy four-door, with kids scrunched in every whichaway. My favorite place was up in the back window. Me and Bonita could get up there cross-legged easy-peasy: one behind Mom and one behind Dad. No one could sit between us because then Dad couldn’t see out the rearview mirror. Deanna fought us for the front seat, next to Mom holding baby Frankie. That was before we had Julie and Johnnie. Seven was all the kids that could fit in that car.
Dad kept that car around for as long as he could.
“Why buy a new car, when the old one works just fine?”
I guess pretty soon the Chevy wasn’t working so fine, ‘cuz Dad took us all car-shopping for a station wagon.
“You can get a three-seater, as an upgrade, which comes along with the carpeting and power steering,” the salesman’s grin stretched across his face, while his eyes looked over at Bonita pressing her lips against a red car in the showroom. I never remember seeing such a shiny car before.
“How much will you give me for a trade-in?” Dad asked.
The salesman looked at our Chevy and kicked at the tires and said something low-down in his throat that only Dad could here.
“Load up, kids,” Dad said. Little ripples skimmed along his jawbone and his eyebrows pulled so tight together they made two straight lines up his forehead.
We loaded up.
“I can’t believe that guy.”
The next place, we all stayed outside in the lot with all the cars. The new salesman showed us the fancy-dancy station wagons, just like the old one.
“We don’t need all those frills,” Dad said. “Just the basics. I don’t know if I even want a station wagon. All our things that would be hidden in the trunk will be right there on display for everyone to see.”
The new salesman showed him a white station wagon with just two seats.
“Look, there’s a well here for all the things you’d store in the trunk.” The salesman opened a door that led to a big well. “But you won’t have the third seat, which you clearly need, with all these kids.” He smiled so all his teeth showed.
Dad flipped the well cover back, and hoisted Bonita and Vickie up. He sat them down in the back compartment, with their feet dangling down into the well. The smell of all that newness came right out of that car and seeped right up into my brain and stayed there as a memory.
“Problem solved.” Dad grinned wider than any salesman.
We got that white station wagon. No power steering; Mom and Dad had enough muscle to turn the steering wheel. No back seat; Me and Bonita liked sitting in the way-back as much as we liked sitting in the back window, maybe more, I never had to get out and run errands for Mom. (Okay, there was that one time, because I was in the way-back, I had to hold the baby-food jar for Frankie while he peed, and he had way more pee than breakfast peaches for a baby.) We never got carpet in a car; one of us kids swept the car floor with a whisk broom every Saturday so the car would be clean as a whistle for church on Sunday.
Now that I’m grown, it tickles me each year, when I see the custom floor-liner ads. We’ve come so far, just to go back again.