No red-bow-wrapped, shiny new automobile sat in my driveway on my sixteenth birthday in July of 1959. Heck, we didn’t even have a driveway at our eastside Detroit duplex.
Two years later, when my husband and I lived in Ypsilanti, Michigan, right after our wedding, we got around by taking public transportation and taxis. We did lots of walking, too. The first car arrived on the scene, nearly a year afterward. By the summer of 1962, we’d saved enough money for the down payment. It was a brand new, robin’s-egg blue Studebaker Lark. Because of the car’s distinct design, friends and family would recognize our blue baby from a block away.
Like most kids, I took driver’s education classes in high school. My dad let me practice driving his stick-shift Dodge, taking me out to Belle Isle to stutter along its two-lane roadways as I learned to change gears. But, I didn’t get my driver’s license until that Studey came along. Since I only had a driver’s permit, my husband rode passenger -- and became the instructor -- anytime I sat behind the wheel. It was a nerve-wracking experience to say the least. Probably for both of us.
For interminable hours, I practiced driving in town and on county roads, parallel parked hundreds of times, and studied the State of Michigan’s rules of the road. I scheduled my driver’s test appointment a few weeks after I’d received my permit. Taking the written test was no problem.
I was a little nervous when I got into the Studey with the DMV official. But the butterflies flew out the window once I put my hands on the wheel, started the ignition, checked my rear-view mirror, looked over my left shoulder, and eased away from the curb. The testing official directed me along our route, telling me where to turn. After he’d had me parallel park, he said, “My, Mrs. C., you certainly are calm.”
A quiet chuckle bubbled up before I said, “Compared to driving with my husband, this is a breeze.”
Having the Studey gave us a summer full of pleasure and a freedom that we’d not known having been tied to bus schedules. One Sunday morning as we headed west toward Ann Arbor, an announcement on the radio advertised it was the last day of the Michigan State Fair. “Let’s go!” we both said at once. We made a U-turn and headed east, a new adventure on the horizon.
When winter came, I learned to handle the Studey and myself in bad weather. At the first snow, my husband put his instructor hat on once again to have me practice keeping control of the car in a skid. It was scary, but I did it. Then felt capable and confident no matter the weather.
Inside the shelter of the Studey in 1963, I learned JFK had been shot. I’d been walking to an afternoon class when the car drew up on my left and I caught a glimpse of blueness out of the corner of my eye. My husband stretched across the seat and rolled the passenger window part-way down. “Get in.” I did, noticing that he looked worried; something was wrong. “The President has been shot!” he said as he drove off in the direction of the campus parking lot near the Student Union. I had questions, but at that point we knew no answers. So, he parked and we abandoned the Studey to watch TV and be in the company of other students when those answers came.
I can only imagine how many trips the Studey made between Ypsilanti and Detroit, sometimes taking Michigan Avenue all the way, other times on I-94. Today, when I remember that car, I recall it with a smile and a nod to the girl I was back in the early 60s when gasoline was less than 25 cents a gallon and fueling up a funny-looking blue car was a first step to adventure.
~ xoA ~
Remember your first car?