Dad served our country in the Army Air Corps Motorcade, working on planes in WWII, and was in the auto industry, owning a service shop, among several businesses. Mom and Dad married right after the war and opened shop. He had a passion for great cars and there was always a nice car, almost always a Cadillac, in the garage as long as I could remember. My Dad was most definitely a Cadillac man, ever since I could remember. I appreciated cars and my brothers both new a thing or two about them, my sisters too. Mom, Dad, Grandma and kids moved to the red house on the hill in 1968 and filled the double car garage with beautiful cars...
Forward to 24 years later, with five of the six of us married and our growing family of grandchildren, Mom's health was not good and she was about to undergo heart surgery. As we all braced ourselves for a difficult surgery, it miraculously turned out that she didn't need any surgery at all. I was elated! 1992 was going to be a fantastic year! Mom was healthy and I was just engaged to the man of my dreams. 10 days later, my Dad was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer... exposure to asbestos in brake linings we thought was likely to blame. We moved up the wedding to April and Dad passed in September. Mom was alone for many years.
Often running Mom's errands and taking her places, it made it easier for her to give up driving, and she did so without a fuss, without much discussion, as we took her any where she wanted, when ever she wanted. Now parenting the parent, the worry of getting that phone call, much like the parent of a teen so often feels, was dismissed as we let the car battery die. The keys have hung on that hook for a long time since.
Two lonely Cadillacs sat in the garage, rarely driven. The red 1973 Eldorado convertible and a creamy yellow 1978 Coupe DeVille sat side by side, like an elderly couple in a home, with not much to do, not much to say, no place to go.
After many more years of memory loss and numerous health issues, Mom passed in September, on her birthday, just before midnight. I was convinced she wanted a slice of her birthday with Dad and maybe a ride with the top down.
It was up to me to distribute the things left behind amongst me and my five siblings. The Red Eldorado had been willed to my brother Pat, in Florida. It was shipped out and the DeVille sat sadly alone. Those cars had escorted us through so many events of the last five decades, weddings, celebrations, family trips and more.
A year late an estate sale was scheduled after every child, grandchild and extended family member had collected mementos. Half of a century of stuff that made up the tapestry of our childhood was housed in the big red house on the hill.
The DeVille still sat and I kept trying to convince myself I should sell it during the estate sale. Certainly someone would be interested... I kept hesitating, not really knowing why. It needed a battery and maybe an alternator, and last had current tags on it in nearly eight years ago. I had it flat bedded to the local vintage car shop to get it running, rationalizing that it would bring a better return if it was running.
I drove it off the lot upon settling my bill with the vintage mechanic shop. Not five minutes away, during rush hour and in front of a day care letting out for the day, I ran out of fuel... Oh, and the air conditioning hadn't been charged... it was a sultry August day in Nebraska. After purchasing a $15 gas can with $6 worth of fuel we were up and running again. Deja Vu came over me, and I chuckled to myself, remembering when I visited my brother with the Eldorado, the identical mishap of an expired tank after the vintage mechanic's rehab. As I waited for fuel to arrive, I had to call Pat and tell him of my misadventure and we both had a good laugh.
The estate sale lasted three days, and I kept saying I was going to park it in the drive, hoping to attract a buyer, but the thought of anyone touching it or risking having someone scratch it, didn't sit well with my so I thought it might be best to bring it home, not even knowing if it would fit in my garage. My husband logically estimated it would, since our home was also built in 1978. It seemed like the right thing to do, to protect the estate assets I kept telling myself as I nestled it in my garage.
Weeks passed and it needed to be driven periodically, so I gladly obliged and I put on my sunglasses, opened the sun roof and wrapped a scarf around me, Audrey Hepburn style, often, and enthusiastically accompanied by my youngest daughter Colette.
The last registered plates were from nearly a decade ago, and I again rationalized that I should put tags on it so that if we were going to let someone test drive it, there wouldn't be a problem. And who knew how long it may take to sell this, so of course it was the logical thing to do.
A current updated insurance binder was obtained and soon a trip to the DMV. Opening the glove box I pulled the pink registration slip, not paying much attention except the date. After a closer look before I headed out I saw that upon it... was my name. My Mother had it registered in my name quite some time ago, before her memory left her, now nearly a decade ago. A gift from her. A gift from beyond and completely a surprise.
It has been a year since Mom passed but I am certain that Mom and Dad are dancing to Stardust, listening to Frank Sinatra albums and enjoying traveling adventures on Route 66 with the top down. The six of us remain, feeling a bit orphaned and running amok, though we are all grown with spouses, children and grandchildren of our own...
The family home is soon to be sold and our childhood mementos have been divided, distributed and sent into the world. I have often thought that the big red house on the hill needs a big bustling family to bring it some life and two cars in the garage... One can only hope. Recently, a kid I used to babysit, now grown with a beautiful bride and six very young children of their own are interested in the house... It makes me smile... we were that family just decades ago.
As I motor about in my vintage memento, this gift from beyond, I can still smell a hint of my Mom's perfume when I sit in the driver's seat, a little slice of her. I hope it never fades...
By Julian Adair
Photos: 1978 Coupe DeVille, 1973 Eldorado and 1992 Wedding photo of Steve and Julian Adair with Pat Gilligan, Julian's Brother serving as wedding driver, both owners of the two Cadillacs