I have come to the stage of my life where I can now tell my students what life was like when I was their age. I particularly enjoy telling them about our station wagon. In this day and age of futuristic space aged minivans with all the fixings, the 1980’s station wagon seems like something out of the Smithsonian. It was a very unique vehicle. The first thing that struck you about the station wagon was its length. It was at least thirty feet long. The classic wagon’s were two-toned. The bottom was wood panelled and the top was a solid colour. The wood panelling gave off a sense of class (or maybe that it was very flammable). The spoked rims were encircled by classic white-walled tires.
I can still remember when Dad brought ‘her’ home for the first time. It glided into the driveway the same way a F-16 lands on the deck of a aircraft carrier. I was waiting on the sidewalk – eager to see the new family ride. Dad was very excited about the new car and had told us that the car was ‘fully loaded’. He had said that the interior looked like the cockpit of an airplane. He was right too – the inside was bedazzled with knobs and switches (some of which had zero uses as we came to realize later). We loved the station wagon at first, but the honeymoon quickly ended.
The first major drawback was the backseat of the wagon. Two people could sit in the back and would face backwards. It was always awkward when you were stopped at an intersection and you were face to face with the driver behind you. You couldn’t open the back door from the inside either – you either had to crawl out of the window, or wait until someone opened it from the outside. Initially sitting in the back felt like you were in a limousine with someone opening the door for you, but this changed quickly when someone ‘forgot’ to open the back door and you were stuck in the hold of that cavernous beast.
Dad took a lot of pride in the station wagon – or woody wagon – as we started to call it. Dad and I cleaned her every Saturday. I would handle the white walls and rims, and Dad would take care of the gigantic hood and the panelling. Little did we know then that this Saturday ritual would be dropped due to the decline of this venerable vehicle.
The decline started with the start of school. The bus stop was about five kilometres down the road and Mom had to drive us to the bus stop every morning. We would all pile in the woody wagon bright and early and get dropped off at the bus stop. My older brother Derek had just come to the point in his life where he started doing his hair. This meant that Mom and the rest of us had to wait in the car until Derek had slicked his hair back with half a litre of gel. By the time Fonzie, I mean Derek, came out of the house we would be late for the bus. Once Derek would get into the car and we got used to the cloud of aftershave and cologne Derek had anointed himself with, Mom would throw the car into reverse and lurch out of the driveway. Once on the road, Mom would jam the ignition into drive and stomp on the gas pedal in a way that would of have won great acclaim at the Indy 500. The great engine roared to life as the gas flowed into it like the mighty Mississippi. A belch of exhaust signalled our launch as I looked out of the back window to see if I could see a hole yawn open in the ozone. The road we lived on was very bumpy and pot-holed. It was the type of road that would bog an army tank down. This did not intimidate Mom – she would weave around the craters with great skill. Sadly this daily ritual took a toll on the station wagon – it seemed to lose some of its pep after a while.
A crushing blow to the aesthetic beauty of the wagon came when Derek got his licence. One fall day, Derek had built up some good steam with the wagon and was careening around a sharp curve. A cube van was approaching from the opposite direction and was encroaching into Derek’s lane. Being the woodsman that he is, Derek veered away from the truck and scraped a large stump that was parked on the shoulder. It was wood on (faux) wood. The stump came out of the ordeal unscathed. Sadly the wagon’s wheel well was pushed in and mangled. Whenever we hit large bumps in the road (i.e. everyday on the way to the bus-stop), the damaged wheel well would scrape along the tire.
There really is so much more to say about this great car. The trip out East in the wagon could fill a book by itself. In the end the wagon just came to a gurgling halt. There was no great explosion or heroic finish. She was like the ol’ family pet who has to be put down – just as ‘Fluffy’ is put to sleep, so to was the wagon put to sleep (aka – crushed) at the wreckers (that thing had enough metal to build at least 50 Hyundai Accents). No more spokes, no more white walls, no more wood panelling, no more ear splitting scraping noises from the crushed wheel well, no more awkward stares from the back seat, and no more useless knobs and buttons. No more.