The Mom Stop column: Antique Plymouth Belvedere filled with memories of grandfather

Lydia Seabol Avant
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Cheboygan Daily Tribune

Columns share an author’s personal perspective.

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My grandfather took care of his two antique vehicles like he maintained everything else in his life - with quiet, meticulous attention and patience.

One of the vehicles, a 1931 red Ford Model A truck, he spent years rebuilding from rusted wreckage that he pulled from his farm in Minnesota. The result was a glossy red truck with authentic details that he won awards for in car shows, a truck that we relished in taking rides in as kids and sounding the “ahhoooooogaaaa” of the horn.

The other antique car was less work, but just as pretty: a 1954 Plymouth Belvedere, with powder-blue body and a white hood. Although he did not build that car - he bought it in the 1960s - it was one he took just as much pride in. His antique vehicles represented the women in his life, in a way - the Model A was a 1931, the year my grandmother was born, and the Plymouth was a 1954, the birth year of my mother.

It was the Plymouth that my mother first learned to drive on as a teenager, which must have been difficult considering it has no power steering and is a stick shift. I suppose, if you can learn to drive on that, you can drive anything.

As a child, my sister and I rode in the backseat of the Plymouth, throwing candy out the window as my grandfather drove it in Christmas or homecoming parades. Years later, when my sister got married, the car served as her “getaway” vehicle after the wedding reception. I’ll always remember how, with a smile on his face, my grandfather stood outside the car and opened the door for my sister and her new husband as they climbed in the backseat - my grandfather with a plaid flat cap tilted on his head just slightly, the way he always wore it.

My grandfather died in 2011, and poetically, that Ford Model A ended up going back to Minnesota with my great-uncle, to the farm where my grandfather grew up.

And for the last nine years, the Plymouth has largely sat in my mother’s garage. We’ve taken it for joy rides around the neighborhood, used it for pictures with all six of my mother’s grandchildren piled in the backseat. But more often than not, it’s been the “cemetery” vehicle, meaning a few times a year on our visits to my mom’s, we climb onto the bench seats and my mom puts on one of my grandfather’s caps, and we drive to the cemetery where my grandfather is buried.

It’s a drive we took in that old Plymouth for the last time last week. The day after Christmas, my mother carefully backed the car out of her garage with its sputtering engine sound. My kids climbed in the backseat, I sat in the front next to my mom as she drove, and I noted how almost a decade after my grandfather died and my grandparents’ home was sold, the inside of that car still smells like my granddad’s garage - a dusty metallic smell like a mixture of tools and oil.

We drove through the neighborhood where I grew up, and to the cemetery nearby. As we drove, I told my kids about how I used to ride in parades in that car, and how the Plymouth had been in the family so long. We talked about my grandfather and what he was like, since he died when my kids were very young.

“I want you to remember this ride,” I told my kids as we left the cemetery and headed back home.

Soon after we got back, a man with a trailer was parked out in front of my mother’s house. My mom has decided that she could no longer care for the car the way it needs to be taken care of, the meticulous way my grandfather always had. The buyer, as it turns out, wanted the vehicle because it was identical to the car his father once had. And so it was sold.

I decided to leave before the Plymouth was loaded up on that trailer. I couldn’t watch it be hauled away. Instead, I want to remember its smell, the way it sounds, and the sight of my grandfather at the wheel, with his tilted cap just so.

It’s like saying goodbye to a piece of him. But I know the memories are what counts - and it’s the stories that will be easiest to hand down to my children, instead of an antique car. I just hope the buyer will appreciate the car, and perhaps it will remind him of his father, the way it reminds me of granddad.

Lydia Seabol Avant writes The Mom Stop for The Tuscaloosa News in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Reach her at lydia.seabolavant@tuscaloosanews.com.