Feature Stories

Grace and the Baron

“America has lost it’s love affair with cars,” according to a recent New York Times article. I don’t believe it for one minute. Ever since we traded our horses for cars, the love affair has continued. Horses took us where we wanted to go. We enjoyed grooming them and took pride in how they looked. We groom our cars today, make sure they are full of fuel, and take them for rides into the sunset. Yes, I have always loved my cars.

When I was 10 years old, I learned to drive by standing on the running board of my Dad’s 1939 Ford truck. My legs were too short to reach the clutch, but I could still steer it around the meadow as we picked up hay. Dad started the truck, put it in gear, pulled out the throttle, then jumped up on the load while I drove.

The first time I drove legally was in our 1948 family Ford. I was 16 and my license had just arrived in the mail. As I sat in the kitchen fondling it, Dad said,” Bill, I am all out of cigarettes, would you mind going to the village to get me a new pack?”

Are you kidding?! I was out the door and on the road in nothing flat. As I was cruising along, thinking how great it was to be finally liberated, I entered the narrow bridge going into Jeffersonville. Right in the middle of the bridge, I met a Vermont Transit bus. When we passed, it was only by inches. That was when I realized driving was fun, but it was also serious business.

I learned other disadvantages to driving. It was much more fun sitting in the back seat with my girlfriend while Dad drove us home from a dance than in was driving her home myself. I guess today we would call it multitasking. While having one hand on the wheel and one around her shoulders, I still had to operate the clutch and shift gears. Staying on my side of the road took skill. Thank the Lord for my necker’s nob.

I never had a car until I was married. My wife came with a 1949 Plymouth. It was powder blue and drove like a dream. It was the first car I ever half-owned.

The first car we chose together was a 1958 VW Bug. One summer, we drove it from Stowe to Mexico City. I fixed it up so we could sleep in it. Yes, it was tight quarters, but who cared — we were newlyweds. It did not have a gas gauge, so I filled its 10-gallon tank every 300 miles. I once got 41 miles a gallon.

When our four children came along, we bought a VW bus. We could cruise down the road with every one of them lying down sleeping in the back. It made many long trips shorter.

A few year ago, I finally bought my toy — a 1995 Chrysler LeBaron convertible, fire engine red with a white top. I groom it every chance I get, keep it full of fuel and love driving it into the sunset.

A couple of weeks ago, my 16-year-old granddaughter Grace sent me a text: “Papa, I am taking driver education now; I also just passed my driver’s permit. When I come up next week to visit, do you think we could take the Baron out for a drive?”

When she arrived, I had it parked out front with a sign that read, “Grace, I have been waiting for you.”

When the weather finally cleared, we put the top down and took it out for Grace’s inaugural drive. I told her it had been a long time since I had ridden in a convertible with a beautiful blond. She smiled.

As we drove along, she had her hands at the standard driver’s ed position of 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock. I said, “Grace, if you won’t tell your mother, I will show you how to really enjoy driving a convertible—place your right hand on top of the wheel. Now, put your left elbow on the top of the door and your left hand, grasp the side of the windshield support. She did remarking, “This is cool!” We agree it’s not as safe, but it is way more cool.

When we arrived back home, she parked it so she  could see it from our porch. Later, as I was sitting on the porch with my youngest grandson, he looked at the Baron with a long sad face and said, “Papa did you give the Baron to Grace?”

I replied that I had not given it to anyone. When he looked back at me, he was wearing a big grin when he said, “Yet!” Hope springs eternal.

In my family at least, America’s love affair with cars is far from over.

Bill Skiff grew up on a farm between Cambridge and Jeffersonville. After a career in education, he now lives in Williston, where he is a justice of the peace and Fourth of July frog-jumping official. In “Places I’ve Played,” he shares his experiences of growing up in Vermont. 

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