In 1964 we Americans were recovering from the horror of having President Kennedy assassinated in Dallas, Texas. We were still embroiled in Viet Nam and American teenagers, mesmerized by the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, were salty and sassy. The Ford Motor Company unveiled its first sleek sports car: the Ford Mustang, its naming possibly an attempt to lasso us back to less complicated times of wrangling and branding.
I was 14 years old and naïve. Cars meant nothing to me; after all, I was 2 years away from my driver’s license, I didn’t shave my legs, and boys were, well, let’s just say that they weren’t as important as my two pet rats, Pixie and Dixie.
One morning, before both the shiny dew had evaporated from our lawn and the milk bottles from the Cloverdale Creamery were retrieved from the porch, my Dad drove up with a new forest green 1964.5 Mustang.
He parked it right in front of our breakfast nook. My mother wailed, “Oh Hugh, we can’t afford a sports car,” and then ran out screaming and threw herself into the front seat.
Steve, Cindy, Jimmie and I continued to stare out the window. Little did we know that having a Ford Mustang would elevate us to that State of Being all kids desire: popularity. Yes, in less time than it took for my mother to burn the toast, 20 neighborhood kids, many of them high school boys, became stuck to that Mustang like barnacles.
Dad was in his glory.
Yes, come by after school today and we’ll shoot some hoops. Sure, I’ll take you little House Apes for a ride.
He drove his old Buick to his dental office that morning and left the Mustang parked safely in our driveway, right underneath the basketball hoop.
When school let out, we all walked home, down Eggers Drive, about a mile. That day, on that mile, the conversation bumped in and out about Dr. Block’s new car. Jack, Chris, and Rusty bounced their basketballs back and forth on that Trail of Tears (that’s foreshadowing, Gang) to our block. Emulating the Harlem Globetrotters, they dribbled and drabbled, speculating about whether Dr. Block would take them for a ride. Dr. Block’s frisky daughter, Cheri, was among the trekkers coming home, concentrating on schlepping her Selmer saxophone, back to her room, the room from which she could ogle that 1964.5 Mustang. Cheri’s life was about to change. ( It feels comfortable to narrate this paragraph in 3rd person.)
Since Dad wasn’t home and Mom had taken her other children to the library, I ventured outside with a basketball. Like yellow jackets to hamburger, Jack, Chris, Rusty and other boys zoomed to our driveway.
Hey, Cheri, get the keys and move your Dad’s Mustang into the garage, so we can shoot hoops.
Hey, why not? I am a saxophone-playing girl, with a mini-body getting ready to sprout. I retrieved the keys, opened the garage door, entered the car, sat down on that rippled leather seat, put the keys into the ignition, and turned them. The warm heavy mufflers sounded their depth; I gunned the gas pedal; the engine was speaking my language—power, prestige, and popularity. Yeah.
Yeah. In a moment that I do not remember, the car lurched forward at about 30 miles an hour. I couldn’t find the brake. We (me, myself, and I) plowed into the hot water heater. The bumper liked the malleable water heater, and decided to embed itself deeply there. Water erupted like the geysers.
Always the problem solver, I earnestly tried to back the car out of the garage, but the bumper and the water heater were having an entanglement, so I pulled back and yanked the water heater right off the wall. Now water really gushed.
Funny about human nature. When I managed to extricate myself from the car, looking like a terrified toothpick of a girl, all the guys were gone. No where to be found. Safe in their garages.
Pragmatic, I shut the garage door, entered the laundry room (the hamster cage had been jettisoned off the inside washer and Butch was feverishly running on his wheel) and headed to my room to do my psychology homework.
Mom came home cheerfully with my three litter mates and screamed a scream that I hadn’t heard since I had been at the Center Theatre watching the horror movie, The Blob. She collapsed on our linoleum floor, crying to beat the band. Dickens licked her face.
As with Jack, Chris, and Rusty, my siblings disappeared like frightened bunnies.
We all waited, suspended in disbelief, for Dad to come home.
After his initial rage, he marched into my room, shut the door, and sat on my bed.
Cheri, why in the Hell (he never swore) did you do such a stupid, reckless thing?
I guess I just wanted to be popular, like Ringo Starr, I said.