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Powder Blue Thunderbird Convertible

Thunderbird convertibleAs I pulled out of the parking lot onto Passyunk Avenue I saw the sleek, antique Thunderbird convertible. It was black, the top was down, and seeing it flooded me with distant memories. When I was a little girl, maybe four or five, my grandfather, Bud, promised me that when I learned to drive he would buy me a Thunderbird Convertible. Driving seemed so far off, but I could picture that car and almost see grown-up me behind the wheel of my own red Thunderbird.

Whenever I saw him I pestered him about the car. Did he mean it? Would I really get a red convertible? He always assured me he was serious, it would be his gift for my sixteenth birthday. He died long before I learned to drive. My first car, purchased when I was in my early 30’s was a silver, 3-cylinder Geo Metro; the anti-Thunderbird.

My grandfather was the biggest person I knew. He was over six feet tall and heavyset. His personality was even bigger. He was generous, with a huge laugh, and so much fun. I adored him. Each Sunday morning we called him, collect from the wall phone in the hall. He lived in Baltimore with my ‘aunt’ Blanche, his second wife. She was a (Jewish) Southern Belle, stylish, grand, and perfectly charming. 

In the summer my family would drive from Long Island to visit them for a week; a week of me getting spoiled, fussed over and treasured. I got hugged more in a week than I did the rest of the year. Naturally, I loved going there.

We’d have breakfast in the kitchen where their maid Virginia baked me special treats, and Blanche put me on her lap and scratched my back gently with her long, manicured nails. She’d take me shopping for new clothes and bathing suits to wear to the country club where she’d watch me splash around in the pool before we had luncheon with her lady-friends. 

My grandfather drove a powder blue Thunderbird convertible, and the two of us would drive together with the top down. I got to sit in the front, as we cruised around the city. If we passed anyone he knew he’d pull over and introduce me. He once took me to the Lexington Market and it felt like we were celebrities. As we walked through the market Bud shook hands at almost every stall, proudly showing me off, as people handed me tidbits of cheese, salami, and sweets.

When you’re a little kid you accept the relationships of the adults in your life without question. I knew my grandfather was my mother’s father, and that Blanche was his wife. I knew my maternal grandmother who was single had raised my mother alone. I didn’t understand the more complex idea that they had been a couple at one point and had produced my mother. The summer after my mother died we went back for the last week we’d ever spend in Baltimore. 

On that final trip, for some reason, my grandmother went with us. It might have been awkward for the adults but I was more than grateful for a week’s vacation away from the sadness that permeated every corner of the house and the echo of my mother’s absence. The year had been a hard one, and going to Baltimore was the first thing that felt normal in months.

Everything was the same there. Blanche’s bracelets jangled as she scratched my back, Virginia baked me treats, and at dinner they let me ring the tiny bell to signal the end of each course. My grandfather and I drove around Baltimore meeting our public, in the Thunderbird convertible with the top down, just like we always had. 

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  • July 6, 2017 - 2:43 am

    Melony Boseley - What a beautiful memory, Nancy! Your grandfather sounds like he was a wonderful man! You were very lucky to have him in your life. XoxReplyCancel

  • July 6, 2017 - 7:13 am

    Danielle Dayney - Nancy,

    You have a way with storytelling. I liked how you kept going back to the thunderbird. It anchored your story. One tiny thing. Maybe move the sentence about your grandfather’s passing to after your last visit? Or remove it entirely. I think the last paragraph will have more weight then.

    Lovely job either way 🙂ReplyCancel

    • July 6, 2017 - 7:20 am - Thanks for the compliment and the feedback! ReplyCancel

  • July 6, 2017 - 1:05 pm

    Michelle Longo - I am fascinated by those moments when something clearly known in childhood becomes fully explained to us as adults.ReplyCancel

  • July 6, 2017 - 3:32 pm

    Rowan - I love – as usual, for folks who know us – the same thing Michelle does, about the juxtaposition between child and adult perceptions, and how re-examination of what we “knew” feels. Your childhood perception stories always read very authentically, maybe because you don’t fall into the trap of being an adult trying to write childishly when you talk about childish things.

    Like Danielle, I struggled with your last two paragraphs. There’s some *there* there, but it’s not as clean as the rest of the story. I might even just swap the order of those two paragraphs and leave the bit about how you never got the Thunderbird up at the top where it is (or even higher) to keep the slightly empty, faded feel to the nostalgia, rather than trying to build it up as a piece about hoping for things and being disappointed. That’s an interesting essay but I don’t think it’s the essay you were trying to write.

    Your eye for detail can be both a blessing and a curse in your writing – with so much detail and memory available to you, it seems like it’s occasionally hard for you to pull out only the relevant ones and avoid the clutter. Your writing style is otherwise so clean and focused that the reader then struggles a little bit when they find something that isn’t moving the plot along, because they expect the digression to be more important or to circle back to the central theme, when in fact it’s just something else that happened that day that isn’t necessarily part of the same story. (This is me, passive-aggressively hoping the other Yw’ers that do the same thing are reading this comment!)

    Ultimately, it’s hard to write about something most readers may not have experienced – the maid, the expensive car, the country club – without coming off as bragging. You manage that incredibly well, both by presenting it as “this is a thing that child-me just accepted” and by showing it as almost fantasy, a divergence from your daily life like a fairy tale. Linking that feeling up with many readers’ fantasies about it keeps the piece relatable.ReplyCancel

    • July 7, 2017 - 5:16 pm - Rowan, As usual, you nailed it, this wasn’t quite the piece I wanted to write. I am always grateful for your feedback, it is clear and sometimes I wonder if you have implanted a camera in my mind… Thanks.ReplyCancel

  • July 6, 2017 - 7:46 pm

    AmyBee - I agree with a lot of what Rowan said. I’m a fan and am always happy to read a post from you. The way you showcase your time in your Grandfathers world feels both nostalgic and mythical, kinda how my own memories of my Great Grandparents play out. Your story captures that space that children occupy within the family structure.ReplyCancel

  • July 6, 2017 - 9:07 pm

    Asha Rajan - Your child voice is spot on. You don’t veer into an adult rendering of childhood events and that’s a joy to read. It’s something I wrestle with often, so I notice when it’s done well.ReplyCancel

  • July 7, 2017 - 12:02 pm

    YeahWrite #325 Weekly Writing Challenge: Popular Vote Winners and Editors' Picks - YeahWrite - […] an incredibly important detail. You know who really nailed down how kids think and act this week? Nancy, on the nonfiction grid. Danielle’s nonfic line: Mama! Can I make you a mermaid? Please! Please! Please! (the three […]ReplyCancel

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