Isn’t it odd how we associate certain people in our lives with particular objects. And how those objects (or similar ones) remind us of those people. We can see the thing and think of the person. Or see the person and think of the thing. I do not believe I am alone in making these kinds of associations.
A few days ago I was walking through the house of an old man who had died, helping his out-of-state relatives get an idea of what was there. A neighbor let me in and the first object I saw was an old electric fan. I immediately thought of my grandma. She lived in a small house in a small town and I was probably ten or twelve years old before she bought a window-mount air conditioner. Up to that time she kept the place cool(ish) during warm summer weather with a couple of old fans. One of them clearly dated to early in her married life and was still doing front-line service some thirty-five years on.
It was one of those fans that was designed and sold long before anyone ever thought of something called a Consumer Product Safety Commission. It featured a “guard” only in the loosest sense of the term – a few bent wires that were probably most effective at reminding those nearby that there was a fan here. My mother didn’t like that thing one bit and told me that it was dangerous. I imagined that children getting their fingers and noses hacked off by fans such as these must have been a common occurrence in “the olden days”, and asked my grandma once if they had been considered dangerous back when. I never forgot her response: “No, because kids used to mind.”
She sort of had a point. Although I don’t think the tendency “to mind” was so much about respect for parental authority as respect for the laws of nature. Or maybe a quick mental calculation of costs and benefits. Anyway, I have never since seen one of those old electric fans without remembering my Grandma and the high opinion she held of childrens’ obedience back in her day.
In the 1980’s when classic leather furniture started to come back into vogue, I would occasionally see (in person or in advertising) an easy chair and ottoman upholstered in the kind of rich, dark red leather that made it look like it belonged in some old-school Gentlemens’ Club (from a time before that term came to mean something else entirely that had nothing to do with actual gentlemen). When I was a kid my Uncle John had such a chair which seemed to me to be his place of refuge and relaxation, where he could read his newspaper unbothered by the noise and bustle that might have been going on elsewhere in the house.
I would sit in that chair occasionally and recall promising myself that when I was grown I would own such a chair. Somehow or other my prize has eluded me, and I am realistic enough to know that there will have to be some decorating changes made at JP Manor if such a dream is to be realized. But the perfect red leather club chair still exists quietly in a corner of my mind, and it is forever linked to my Uncle John, who was an amazing guy in his quiet, unassuming way.
This brings me to another object that has been on my mind and made me think about this subject. Another Aunt and Uncle had a car when I was young that became a favorite of mine. I have always been unnaturally drawn to cars and if I have known you in person there will almost certainly be a particular car that reminds me of you (or you will remind me of it). The family of my cousin Dave owned a maroon 1964 Ford for a long time. It was only two or three years old when they bought it and it stayed in daily service into the early 1970’s. By that time the family had newer, nicer cars, but my cousin Dave liked that old Ford the best, for reasons I no longer remember.
It is a mystery why one person can be so drawn to another, but for the first several years of my life Dave was the one I latched onto like glue whenever our families got together – which was odd because there was about six years difference between us and there were younger cousins who were closer to my age. Maybe I admired him for being many of the things I was not. I was quiet and shy, but Dave was loud and funny and always the center of attention. I recall getting him in trouble a couple of times, like the time when I was a 5 or 6 year old at their family’s dinner table and referred to one of their neighbors as “the old bitch” after spending the day out and about with Dave. His mother knew exactly how I had thought to identify her in that way. Dave’s defense was to seek refuge in the truth (“Well, she is . . . “). He took more care later to warn me not to repeat some of the things that came out of his mouth (warnings that were not infrequent) but he never got upset with me.
After he got his drivers license and he had somewhere to go he never failed to invite me along if I was around and I soaked up the company and the aura of that maroon Ford which I found so appealing, even when it was a rusty beater with tears in the upholstery and with no hubcaps. Or maybe that was why I found it so appealing – that it was the opposite of the respectable cars driven by all of the respectable people in my life.
Two things happened this past week that brought this association to mind. The first one was that I received word that my cousin Dave had died. Those closer to him knew he had been ill, but as often happens we had not been in touch for a long time, and I was shocked to hear the news. I remembered times spent as a child when I would follow him everywhere, and times spent as an adolescent riding with him in that rusty, worn-out 1964 Ford.
The second thing that happened is the really odd one. Over at the CurbsideClassic.com site where I still periodically contribute, a picture was posted without comment. It had been a random contribution from a reader and the editor found something worthwhile in the photo’s composition. As you can guess, I saw something else when I saw the shot of a badly damaged, weathered and long abandoned maroon 1964 Ford with a cross on the hood. Requiescat in pace, Dave.
c. 1930 General Electric fan formerly offered for sale at flyingtigerantiques.com
Red leather chair offered for sale by colemanfurniture.com
Split photo of 1964 Fords, from the 1964 Ford brochure from oldcarbrochures.org (top) and by the author (bottom)
Final photo by Don Kincl and published at curbsideclassic.com