black car just crossed my path
By: Naomi McCulloch
When I was walking down the street a few months back, I noticed this mid-70’s black Chrysler Cordoba, and was compelled by the reminder of my Grandpa to take a picture. I’ve since seen it a few more times, parked in nearly the same spot, across from the diner. This exact style black Chrysler Cordoba was his dream car, at least that’s what he told me one day in his room when I saw the old magazine ad-page.
With precision, he’d gently torn out the ad of a black Cordoba in a red show-room, it rested in an open jewelry box on his bedside table where he placed his watch every night. He had obviously had it for years, I’d simply never noticed before. My grandpa didn’t usually say a whole lot about things he wanted, it wasn’t his way. The things that visibly delighted him were small surprises of food treats, the things which were his favorites, Assam tea from the import store, fresh-from-the-garden jalepenos, a homemade jar of jam. It seemed to me the he had everything one could ever desire for a beautiful life. And for some reason, it also seemed as if I would be there forever, living out summers in tall grass and eucalyptus trees, collecting sumac berries and black walnuts which my grandmother repeatedly warned would cause horrible belly aches. Not that we ever did attempt to eat them, they were for other uses, always. She was also frequently told to let us alone to play, by Grandpa. The patriarch who had planted the berries as a gate, hiding from street-view the black walnut, the stands of bamboo, the numerous fruit trees. He was the keeper of the yard during my youth, as long as we stayed out his work, he didn’t interfere with our play.
Among the relics in the yard, were a few vehicles, in various stages of abandoned repair, and in the driveway, were the vehicles in use, these changed through-out the years. There was always much discussion about the necessity and impending purchase of whichever car would come into our lives next. Not that it happened often, but when it did, it was not taken lightly and was an after-dinner topic of interest both before and after the event. Perhaps this is how it is in all families. Having never really purchased a car, nor having an extended family of children and grandchildren at my dinner table, it’s not an activity that has carried down in my own life. What struck me as I spotted the black Cordoba in my neighborhood that day, was that of all the times he bought a car, he never had the one that he told me was his dream-car. In fact, knowing how private he was, it’s entirely reasonable there were several dream-cars he didn’t have the opportunity to own or even test-drive.
Recently, on my way to my youngest sisters’ wedding, while at a roadside stop with the kids for lunch, I stepped outside for a smoke. There, across the street at the gas station, was a car towing a baby-blue ‘doba, strapped neatly to a tow-dolly. I had a private chuckle, thinking, here’s Grandpa, reaching out in well-timed car-spottings, reminding me that he’s along for the ride. Reminding me that there are things I will want in this life, which I will not have the time to save for, or take care of. There are things that will be lost in the shuffle of living, that may linger sometimes as desire, but may not reach the level of priority that makes their ownership necessary or possible. Had he given up his early retirement, found more work, he could have found and bought his car, easily. He had other cars, that we all enjoyed on road trips with him up and down the valley, along the coast, into redwood forests. I cannot credit him with making a sweeping grand gesture of denying himself the car of his dreams to spend time with us, or improving the family home or growing a fantasy playground in his yard. I think it was more a series of choices he made, based on his own acknowledged goal of pursuing his hearts’ content. Which happened to be his family, and his yard.