Clunker Car Trauma — My Childhood of Having the Oldest, Ugliest Car in the Block

My father’s a good man — let’s get that out of the way already, but he subjected me and my sister to the worst embarrassment of our childhood. He drove us in a 1969 Ford Cortina in the ’80s and early ’90s. His “waste not, want not” mentality prevented him from buying a decent-looking vehicle to match his decent-looking family. I remember not wanting to be driven to school ever and frequently wishing hard that my dad would still be at the office by the time my school bus drove me home just so I wouldn’t hear rich stupid kids calling the clunker, “Mad Max” or “Knight Rider.” I so didn’t have any sense of humor whenever that car was concerned.

It wasn’t only that it was ugly — it broke down often too. My dad always needed the wheel bearing repaired or replaced (especially after my uncle drove it straight to another vehicle — why? How? Answering merits a different post). Also, the engine was a problem — it often suffered a “cardiac arrest” on the freeway. Worth adding as well is it never had enough power for uphill climbs. My dad would make my beautiful mother and us, his kids, get out of the car and walk so the car could make it over.

To this day, even if I’m riding a brand new car, I can’t help but feel anxious or nervous every time we need to drive through a road with rises and dips. I always feel like it can’t make it and I need to get off so it would.

Sometimes, all that would suddenly figure in family conversations and I would just be filled with resentment toward my dad. Like recently, I was discussing the car purchase I wanted to make with my brother-in-law and my dad butted in the conversation about not liking that car I was considering because of the price. I just wasn’t able to stop myself from saying that I needed to make sure I wouldn’t end up with a car that he drove us around in as kids.

“That was a great car!” my dad defending his Ford Cortina. “Besides it would be a vintage beauty now.”

“I know and if it were still alive I’d have it fixed but I can’t outwork what you put us through with our many clunker cars. I’m no longer the big gooner I used to be and push cars on the highway like you used to make me do,” I snarled at my father. “My choice just needs to be the opposite of yours.”

That retort may seem offensive but my dad’s different. He saw all that as part of character formation. I’m a tough girl and now I don’t really have a lot of issues with riding a beat up car, but I must say before finding all the idiosyncrasies of that funny, the embarrassments I felt as a kid surface first.

I’m old and I don’t want to be haunted by my childhood traumas anymore. My car will be a solid one and it won’t be called “Mad Max!” by mean kids!

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