It was a long time ago, say about 1960. I would have been about 14 years old then and would have recently become very much interested in automobiles. Back then age 14 was a magical time when you first really became aware that having a real car—as opposed to plastic model cars– was going to soon be a real possibility. Some of us spent our lunch money buying the Reader’s Digest sized custom car magazines of the time and dreaming about what car we would soon have in just two more years. I also recall spending way too much time in study hall drawing hot rods and custom cars when I should have been studying school subjects. About this time my family acquired a robin’s egg blue 1959 Mercury and for some reason it coincided with my unexpected introduction to Cream of Wheat cereal. Talk about a weird association; forever afterward I associated Cream of Wheat with 1959 Mercurys.
I was always super aware of every automobile on our block and what kinds of cars that my friend’s parents drove. My friend Richard’s parents drove an uncool 1954 Plymouth four door sedan for the longest time and then traded it in for an absolutely bottom of the line, cheapest you could get, 1960 Rambler that had little more than seats and a steering wheel, uncomfortable plastic seat covers, no radio, and cheap plastic paisley floor covering. Talk about supremely uncool. On a coolness scale of one to ten that car was a minus 2. My friend Don’s father drove a 1946 Chevrolet as a work car and they had a 1953 Chevy that was the family car. Both these cars were well beaten—as in driven the equivalent of over 200,000 miles– and Don’s father spent most of his free time working on these cars just to keep them running. The ’46 actually rated a 5 or 6 on the coolness scale though because it was…….ancient by our standards—antique even! It was a junker but it was kind of a cool car. The ‘53 Chevy on the other hand rated a 3. It was a faded red-to-rust color four door sedan and just plain clunky. An older couple down the block was the first to get a new 1958 Edsel with the strange horse collar grill. It was a sharp green and white car that was the talk of the neighborhood for quite a while. I was probably much more aware of automobiles than most of my friends. That’s just the way it was. We were an automobile family. My Grandfather was a museum old car restorer and my father was acutely aware of all the new automobiles. He always talked about them at length with my grandfather. Cars meant something to us.
At any rate, I’d typically be getting ready for school in that then new-to-us colonial house in Maple Hts. It was probably early in the spring or maybe late in the winter. The mornings were cold. So I got up and got dressed and went down into the kitchen to discover a pan of Cream of Wheat on the stove. By then it was cold and kind of lumped together because Dad always got up about an hour before me. Suddenly what was this?? Up until then I had to eat cold cereal — Rice Krispies, Sugar Pops, Bran Flakes and such for breakfast. I never ate cooked cereal before. And now this! The Cream of Wheat was breakfast that Dad had begun making for himself and he had made extra for me. The first thing I learned to do was add a little bit of milk to it and slowly reheat it on the gas stove. “Don’t turn the gas up too high like ‘old High Fire Price’,” Dad said, derogatorily referencing my mother’s maiden name with her penchant for scorching things on the stove by being in a hurry and turning the gas way up. But ‘old High Fire’ most certainly was also a derogatory reference to my Mother’s quick and unpredictable temper. These were the times when my parents were still attempting to hold their marriage together and Dad was making his latest effort to stay away from the bars. Cream of Wheat; OK, so I tried it and though it didn’t exactly have much taste, if you put a couple of teaspoons of sugar on it, it wasn’t bad. It was edible so I ate it—to coin a family phrase!
Dad had just bought the used 1959 light blue Mercury that had a V-8 engine. Boy was that a big deal to us because, prior to the Mercury, my mother had insisted on buying a behemoth 1958 Plymouth station wagon with a slower than molasses-in-February 6 cylinder engine. At least in my father’s eyes and mine, it was not exactly the envy of the neighborhood. During the couple years that we owned it, it sort of became something of an embarrassment. The front seat upholstery wore out in 6 months, and the eyebrows over the headlights quickly began to rust from within prompting my mother to write to Chrysler and demand new seat covers and fenders. Of course they didn’t respond. Aside from that my father couldn’t seem to keep a clutch in it. This might have had something to do with my mother skipping first and second gear and usually starting out in third to make for less– or no– shifting, and then flooring it because it was so gutless. After installing the fourth clutch Dad either sold it or it got traded in on the Mercury.
Now the Merc was a car that had some class. It had those big divided fins; it was a sharp blue color and had a good radio and a really chromed-up, space ship type dash. I never washed or waxed the Plymouth—it was plug ugly and I could not picture myself ever driving it. But the Mercury on the other hand; I was proud of that car. We hadn’t had it long when I decided to wash and wax it. Being early spring it was a bit nippy out but sunny. I wetted it down to begin washing it and there came a loud cracking sound. The windshield cracked horizontally across the car. Immediately ‘old High Fire’ blamed me, swinging her arms wildly. You had to always be on your guard because she liked to club you in the head or slap you in the face—oh, such fond memories of childhood and kindly old maternal Mom!!! “Of course you must have done something that caused it to crack,” she bellowed. I stayed clear of her for days afterwards—a pattern that was well developed, even by then. So the car soon went to the glass shop where they installed a new windshield….. And they also pointed out some things to Dad that he had not noticed when buying the car. Apparently there was a good bit of new bodywork around the windows and because of that, the windshield didn’t fit right, causing undue pressure in certain areas. When I sprayed cold water on the sun warmed windshield it cracked. Whereupon my father did some further checking into the history of the car and discovered that the car had previously been wrapped around a telephone pole with the pole sinking 13 inches into the roof. Ah, those were the days when you could turn back speedometers, put two halves of cars together and resell them as untarnished, and repair totaled automobiles, selling them as never wrecked. No government controls were yet in place. My washing the car likely had nothing to do with the windshield cracking—at least in my father’s eyes.
I don’t know exactly what happened but shortly thereafter the Mercury disappeared. It probably got sold to some other non-suspecting individual, and we inherited my Aunt Helen’s 1957 Oldsmobile that was by then 4 years old. Now that was a cool car, a luxury car like we had never had before. We had that car for several years and I actually eventually got to drive it. Shortly after the Mercury incident Dad once again began to daily visit the local tavern, and I joined the football team, the wrestling team, the track team, and maybe even the basket weaving team to be at home as little as possible.
Cream of Wheat……I never ate it much after that. Dad resumed drinking his breakfast. A couple of years ago though my wife made some as an alternative to her oatmeal. I tasted it. Yuck; it might have been edible but I didn’t eat it!
The Old Road is a column that features antique automobiles, old cars, their owners, and their stories of the road, the restoration, and the acquisitions. Do you have a restored antique auto? Perhaps you have an old daily driver or a no longer drivable derelict with an endearing family history sitting out in the barn or a field? Maybe you have questions about restoration. Drop me a line: E-mail me at Skipstaxidermy@yahoo.com, or give me a call at 330-562-9801, I’d like to hear from you.