The Memento Motori Bit

Biggest boom box ever...

Biggest boom box ever!

Happy Happy New Year!

So I watched my old Jetta get towed away for good in 2016 – and it made me sadder than I expected.  I mean, I know all cars die eventually.  But beyond losing the only cassette deck left in my life, it felt like I’d said goodbye to a longtime friend.  And it made me think of other cars that transported me and my family through the decades – of where they brought us, what they brought out in us, and of my one all-time favorite.

I’ve never been a huge car enthusiast or anything.  I do watch Formula 1.  And I loved getting to go on a NASCAR ride-along once!  It turned out, though, to be 165 mph proof that race car drivers and Top Guns may feel a need for speed – but me?  Not so much…

Looking keener than I feel.

Looking keener than I feel…

No, if there’s a family gene for auto appreciation, it was probably most expressed in my Grandpa K.  Feeling flush after many lean years, Grandpa treated himself to a Jaguar convertible.  Mum says Grandma was appalled at first by this extravagance.  She couldn’t set aside all those years they’d eaten oatmeal three times a day (and not because they loved oatmeal…).  But eventually, and with stoic resignation, Grandma nobly resolved to try and enjoy whizzing around SoCal in such style.  And I think she pulled it off!

Feeling keener than she looks.

Feeling keener than she looks!

My big brother Jack also enjoyed trading up on cars as his fortunes allowed.  I think for him, it was more for the procurement of proficiency than for the pride and prestige.  At one point, he bought a Golf GTI which he was advised to baby for the first few thousand miles – so he promptly set off to test it on the back roads and off-roads of California’s Death Valley.

An indelicate gesture for a cautionary sign.

An indelicate response to a cautionary sign.

Years later, on a vacation we took to Hawaii’s Big Island, Jack had to promise the car rental people not to tackle the steep, washboardy road that ground its way 13,000 feet up to the summit of Mauna Kea volcano.  So guess what activity moved to the top of our list..?

Conquering Mauna Kea.

Conquering Mauna Kea.

When it came to challenges, that was dear Jack in a nutshell (and later, an Audi).  If you ever wanted to see him do something, just tell him he couldn’t do it.

I don’t really think I’ve used cars to fly in the face of advice or authority  – just perhaps of common sense.  Like when I inherited the family Chevette and, with no real car care knowledge, took it right out on the road.

Ah, our old Chevette!  I can’t say anything bad about it – I’ll just suggest that its finest feature may have been how easy it was to spot in parking lots.

The Chevette that got me to Arrow Rock Missouri - and almost got me back...

The Chevette that got me here to Arrow Rock, Missouri – and almost got me back…

The Chevette came to me with some “refinements” Dad had made over the years, including a silver racing stripe across the trunk where the metal was rusting, Velcro holding the glove box closed, a radio antenna made of a repurposed (and not entirely straightened) bucket handle, and some sort of clampy thing that kept the clutch functioning.

But I was still so proud to drive my very own wheels up to my other big brother Rich’s in Oregon, and travel with him all around the state to work on our family tree.  We weren’t far into our genealogical journey, though, when Rich casually asked how long the brake lights hadn’t been working – to which I less proudly replied:  “Um, what..?”

Car savvy Rich fixed the problem immediately, then taught me one of the many life lessons he imparted  – to glance every so often in the rear view mirror to make sure my brake lights reflected off the car behind me.  We went on to have a super (not to mention safer) time touring Dad’s home town of The Dalles, paying respects to kin resting in a hillside cemetery in Dufur, and chatting up old folks who’d actually eaten in the restaurant my great grandpa ran in Bandon in the ’20’s.  And throughout our adventures, the Chevette worked just fine!

Well – after the new windshield wipers.

Rich peruses a borrowed funeral registry in search of old Dick Parmeter.

Rich peruses a borrowed funeral registry in search of our great grandpa.

Given my sustained lack of car knowledge, it wasn’t the most sensible choice either to take the Chevette on a solo trip from California to Missouri because of my thing for the writings of Mark Twain.  Nevertheless, I spent a glorious month rambling out to, and all around, the “Show Me State” (read The Location Location Location Bit for more on this trip) and making it to within a couple hours of home before that clampy thing on the clutch popped off.  (The glove box, however, did stay shut the entire trip!)

With no hesitation or admonishment, dearest Dad grabbed his red tool box and drove from the Bay Area to Placerville to perform repairs, take me to dinner and lead me home.   I guess neither Dad nor Mum figured they could very well blame me for indulging a need to explore – because they knew where it came from.

It came from them.

Love of travel was among the many interests the folks shared throughout their marriage.  Their honeymoon trip was a drive around upper Wisconsin in “the Green Chev” – their first car together.

Newlyweds and their Green Chev.

Newlyweds and their Green Chev!

Within a couple years, the Green Chev would shuttle them and baby Rich to California where Dad accepted a professorship at UC Berkeley, and where by and by, they came to need a vehicle big enough to haul a family of five.

That’s the vehicle parked in the dearest space in my heart – our International Harvester Travelall.

Ready to hit the road!

Ready to hit the road!

Substantial, sturdy and spacious, the Travelall was our Endeavour.  It was our Beagle.  Our Starship Enterprise that boldly took a young family to all parts of the country it had never gone before.

Trading his fedora for a baseball cap or cowboy hat, Dad did all the driving, sometimes all day long to make it across the country and back in whatever vacation time we had.  But, from what I could see, he enjoyed clocking those miles – cruising along with his left arm out the window and his right hand on the wheel, tossing out a friendly salute here and there to any driver who granted him room on the highway to pass.

Always beside him, Mum wore many hats of her own including navigator, campsite or motel chooser, and rambunctious child wrangler.  She juggled all the tour books, searched the radio for classical music or a good local football match-up, conjured up games for us kids to play, and doled out comics and treats at carefully measured intervals.

She was also on one end of the epic front seat tug-of-war over when to stop for gas.  Sort of like Jiminy Cricket, Mum constantly lobbied for conscientious pit stopping while Dad was more willing to let his gut be his guide:

“About time to gas up?”  /  “Nope.”

A bit later:

“S’eetheart, how about the kids and I start looking for a gas station?”  /  “Nope.”

Later still:

“S’eetheart!  The needle’s on the ‘E.’  Doesn’t that mean we need gas?”  /  “Nope.  I bet we can go another 50 miles!”

Was Dad such a gas gauge guru that he never once let the Travelall run out of fuel and strand us by the side of the road to make a game of throwing pebbles at a tin can on a fence post while we waited for rescue?


As for the back seat,  there was plenty of room – but we youngsters still endlessly struggled to occupy and defend the portions of it we felt were ours.  “Dickie”, “Jackie” and I didn’t need to spot a VW Beetle to play Slug Bug – slugging happened quite organically for us.  Sharing, however, did not.  The concept tended to be forgotten when buttons on a museum display needed pressing, or when there was only change enough to activate the “Magic Fingers” on one motel room bed.  But somehow we got along.

Well – mostly.

I recall Rich’s loving to read aloud from travel guides and pamphlets as we toured every kind of natural and historical wonder throughout the country.  And from age nine, Jack began developing his own visual sense by capturing moments with a camera:


Dining “al fresco”!

Parked by a monument.

Monumental excursion.

I was very young for most of these trips.  And while I can remember details here and there, much of what I carry is just the feeling of being on the road, exploring the world as a family – and absolutely loving it!

And ohhh, the things we saw!  I hope that when I’m old, as the recollection of where I leave my keys starts to dim, more details from these trips will actually bubble up.  But I do hold some images in my mind.  Like when Dad made a party out of a lengthy road work delay near the Grand Canyon by breaking out the camp stove for hot drinks and befriending the similarly stranded bakery truck driver just ahead.  And when we rode through the night to beat triple-digit heat and saw the sun come up near Gila Bend, Arizona.  And when we dined anywhere we pleased on simple fare served off the Travelall’s tailgate – the first and best food truck meals I’ve ever had.

So maybe I am a car enthusiast!  Because I love those cars for enabling me to go on some of the most meaningful and cherished journeys of my life.  They’re long gone now, those cars.  But the mileage I get from remembering where they carried me and those I’ve loved?

Well – there’s not a dashboard long enough for the number.

Once again, Happy New Year!  And may 2017 hold for you a wealth of sweet and special journeys!

tesserology green chev


  1. Lovely and so well written. I think your love of family beats the one for cars, but only just. We used to drive around in a VW camper-van when the kids were small. Other VW Camper-van owners used to dip headlights when passing. We felt a kinship with VW owners, smoked dope and listened to Carol King. I even had a perm done.
    Now, getting on, we listen to Leonard Cohen and Sibelius, resisting sliding in becoming staid.

    1. Thank you very very much! Sounds like good times in that van! My folks also had a VW Vanogan they drove around Finland when they retired – for them, it was always Sibelius! Thanks again and you keep on rolling with your tunes!

  2. Immanuel Spira · · Reply

    I love this post. I only wish I could remember similar details from the somewhat similar trips my family took – and similar vehicles that left impressions on me – when I was a child. Those are cherished memories indeed, and I thank you for reminding me of them. You write beautifully, and it’s always a pleasure to read your “bits.”

    1. Thank you so much, Manny! I was surprised at what came back to me when I really started mulling over those days. Glad you have some of the same great memories! Thanks again for reading and for such kind comments!

    1. Why, thanks! And a very Happy New Year to you!

  3. I thoroughly enjoyed the stories, the old photos you found to illustrate it, and your writing. Will you tell us ones about the Jetta in a subsequent post? Happy 2017 on your new wheels!

    1. Many thanks – and a Happy 2017 to you! The post was prompted by my finding some of those old photos – real gems. And thanks for the thought about more Jetta stories!

  4. Fantastic! I too have fond memories of childhood cars and could tell you their number plates, whereas I can barely do that for the car I drive now. Which, by the way, has a cassette recorder…

    Happy New Year!

    1. Thank you! Well, I’m jealous about that cassette recorder! 😉

    2. Oh – and Happy New Year to you!

  5. Danielle · · Reply

    I may have an old cassette tape player in storage. If I find it, it’s yours. 😉

    Happy 2017!

    1. Aw, very kind of you! And Happy 2017 to you! Please don’t go to the trouble though – someday, I want to figure how to transfer them to digital (like the folks’ wedding which is on audio cassette). And I can even find most of my Shaun Cassidy mix tape on iTunes! 😃

  6. Karen Zumsteg · · Reply

    Ah – family travel and car milestones. So fun! Thanks for the trip(s) down memory lane, Amy! P.S. – Need to borrow my ’01 Civic?

    1. Does it have a tape deck? 😉. Happy New Year, Karen Z, and thanks for reading!

  7. Wonderful post. I grew up in Ellsworth, Wisconsin are – a family of 5 kids (my twin sister and three older brothers). We lived in a rural area in a nice, but humble house surrounded by trees and hills and a beautiful view but not a lot of money but my Dad loved cars and we loved to take drives through the country. My Mom never learned to drive – my parents were older when they had me and my sister and her plan was to be the housewife. Dad died at an early age – 51 so she was left a widow at 49 with 5 kids. She quickly learned to drive and later enjoyed it but always had very practical cars and drove them until they dropped and then got another one. Thanks for sharing your nice memories and photos – so nice for you to have it all together for future reference too! Happy New Year!

    1. Thanks so much for sharing your story! Bet you enjoyed those drives although, even with your sister, you were still outnumbered! 😉. And what a job your mom must have done. Thanks for reading – and thanks again for your car stories!

  8. happy 2017!

  9. swissmisssusie · · Reply

    I also have fond memories of traveling by car. In our family’s case, we were usually pulling a trailer and camping out at some KOA or state park campground. We spent more weekends seeing every inch of California, and beyond! I definitely inherited the wandering gene too… I fly my little airplane all over the USA, and I recently bought my own camping trailer to explore the world. I’ll be setting off on a couple-month adventure through the USA and Canada this summer! I’m doing the planning for it now.
    Thanks for sharing your pictures and memories!

    1. Ah yes, KOA’s! We hit our share of those. And your summer trip sounds super – I’m sure you’ll enjoy!

  10. I thoroughly enjoyed this road trip down memory lane, Amy. Your writing is a joy to read–engaging, descriptive, and light-hearted yet poignant. The old photos, the old road trip games, traveling with a large family, living your life with them. You brought back many of similar memories I have of my large family squashed into our car on adventurous road trips across America. Thank you.

    1. Thank you so much! And glad it brought back memories of your own adventures!

  11. Love the post. I’d be right at home in that Travelall.

    1. Thank you! Yeah – that was quite the family truckster!

  12. Happy New Year! A fine travel through time! May 2017 and the future hold lots more conquests… of hills and cars! 😉
    PS – Why didn’t you remove the cassette player before the Jetta set off to car paradise?? o_O

    1. Many thanks – and a Happy New Year to you! Good idea about that cassette player but, sadly, the only thing I ever figured out how to do with cars is add oil!

      1. Oil is good!! 😉

  13. Thoroughly enjoyed this – possibly because your family tales of cars and journeys are completely different to mine. Hardly anyone in my family can drive – I can’t, neither can my parents or my wife. My brother has only just learned as he moved to Australia and had to. We always lived in cities and always managed to travel about somehow. So it was lovely to read all your memories of family trips and how cars hold such powerful memories for people. (Even though I can’t drive I once spent 6 weeks driving around America with a friend so I know how much fun it is).

  14. Glad you enjoyed it! I bet it’s nice though to enjoy goings places without having to be behind a wheel – and I didn’t write much about the times our cars broke down! 😉. Still, they were really the best of times! Thanks for reading!

  15. Christi Stanley · · Reply

    Just rereading this one again. One of my favorites, my talented friend. LOVE the picture of the newlyweds, too cute, and hearing about your childhood travels. What an era it was, and one I have not taken advantage of enough with my own family (although these days everyone would have their heads down looking at iphones!) I also have many happy (and harrowing) tales as well growing up in the midwest – up to Mt. Rushmore, down to Orlando via Plains, GA – – perhaps you have inspired me to get them down on paper as well! Continued success! cms

    1. My goodness, thank you so much for the kind words! And I’m doubly honored if you feel moved to write down and share your own family memories! Thanks so much for being a great reader – and a great friend!

  16. I see I am not the only person to find that the vehicle that once carried me physically now serves as a vehicle for memories.
    I often wonder, if we remember them do they retain anything that once was us? I think Isak Dinesen / Karen Blixen asked the same question in “Out of Africa”.

    1. Good looking Renault! And yes, I think we have the same feelings! Interesting thought on whether something of us remains – would be nice to think so, wouldn’t it? And maybe that’s why I felt I’d lost not just a car last year but a friend. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your story!

  17. […] THE MEMENTO MOTORI BIT  (2016) […]

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