New Station Wagon

We have to take our Volvo in for its 40,000 mile service this morning. I can’t believe that it has so many miles. It feels like we just picked it up! The dealership is an hour away in Buffalo so we will take both cars and do some shopping in the area, Trader Joe’s, and Wegmans and maybe BJ’s. I will load some coolers in the back of the Subaru.

We ordered the Volvo at the dealership a couple of year ago. It was clear that our old Volvo station wagon wasn’t going to pass inspection and we knew what the matter was. The car drove well, the body was in good shape, but the expense of the needed repair was 3 times the value of the car. We went to the dealership and ordered a Volvo to be picked up in Sweden. From our order form they would build it for us and we would pick it up at the factory. It was a big deal!

The day Mom’s old ford station wagon came was a big deal too. Dad’s car took us anywhere we needed to go, but of course he used it for work. The station wagon was pretty basic. No radio. But there it was in the driveway, big and clunky, standard shift on the steering column, full seats in the front, full seats in the back that folded down for cargo. I eyed it, shrugged, and went on my business.

My business that day was to get my hair cut. It was long. It was tangled. Getting it combed out was painful. I did not want to comb out the tangles. My mother did not want to comb out the tangles. It got dirty. Getting it clean meant lying on the kitchen counter with my head in the sink and getting it scrubbed. Short hair wouldn’t need so much cleaning. Short hair wouldn’t be tugged in school. Short hair would not have to wait till my mom would put it into braids or pony tails. I could manage the short hair myself.

Everything got organized. The newspaper was spread on the floor. The big sewing scissors, a hand mirror, a brush and comb were on the kitchen table. Mom determined the process. The unruly mane would stay in braids. She would cut off the braids separately in their 2 units, and then begin the shaping process. She pinned a towel around my neck to catch the hair. My sisters got sent outside to play. They weren’t far, just on the new stoop. The old windows were open. The door to the back room was open. The big door to the stoop was open and the screen let in the noise of the neighbor kids and my sisters playing.

The long counter that wrapped around the curved outside wall of the butler’s pantry held the dish drainer with the morning cereal bowls and juice glasses and coffee cups. The table had the ‘Courier News’. I had already read the comics. Prince Valiant, Brenda Starr, Archie, Beetle Bailey, Betty Boop, Dick Tracy, Judge Parker. I didn’t like the big ones with jokes. I didn’t think they were funny. Dad would read them with one eye closed and chuckle. I would stare at the jokes and wait to understand. And never understand. But the ones where people got into jams, were living glamorous and dangerous lives, especially Prince Valiant. They were worth leaping out of bed for.

I sat in the chair. The phone rang. Mom answered it. An Eastern Star meeting. She hung up. She picked up 1 braid. She picked up the scissors. My sister came in. The screen door slammed. Could the boys down the street play here? Mom put down the scissors. I stayed in the chair. Mom went outside. She came back in. She picked up the scissors. She picked up the braid. The sound of a thick braid being cut, kind of grinding right by my ear, a chunk of hair at a time. Then the feel of hair falling against my ear. One braid, tight braided on the right side of my head, the hair on the other side free and moving back towards my neck, forward toward my cheek. Mom gave me the mirror. I looked at the hair on my left side. I liked the look. I liked the feel. I liked being alone in the big old kitchen with Mom.

Screams came through the open window. Mom put the scissors down. She hurried out through the back room, opened the screen door. It slammed behind her. She didn’t come back in. I waited in the chair. I got up. I looked through the window. The car was pulling out of the driveway. Mom was driving. My sister was sitting in the front seat.

Sarah from next door came over. She picked the paper from off the floor. She unpinned the towel from around my neck. She broomed up the stray hair. She picked up the scissors, the comb. I looked in the mirror again. 1 braid on the right side of my head, a jagged uneven half cut left side. All day. Mom and sister came home. Sister, arm in a cast, getting situated on the play room sofa. Cookies for her. Comics for her. Milk and peanut butter and jelly for her.

Supper time. My sister at the table, brave and noble. Taking the blame. It was her fault. The boy hadn’t known how strong he was. The stoop wasn’t that high. He was so sorry. She would be all right. Sniff. The things she couldn’t do. Ride a bike. Sniff. Go swimming. Sniff. Poor sister. Such sympathetic parents. No, she does not have to finish her plate. No, she does not have to clear the table. Yes she can rest on the play room sofa till bed time. Milk to the play room. Cookies to the play room.

I clear the table. It isn’t my turn. It is hard to be noble with 1 braid, 1 jagged shock of hair. It is hard to do anything. I don’t want to go outside. Dad laughs the way he does at the comics. I don’t get the joke. There is nothing funny.

A long day, and finally, the towel is wrapped around my neck and pinned tight. The mirror, the comb and the scissors are laid on the table. The right braid is picked up. The grinding, the freed hair swinging forward on my right cheek. The snipping. The comparing. The combing, so easy now that there aren’t a foot of tangles down my back.

There is nothing like picking up a new car in Sweden, never before driven except up from the factory. We walk around, we examine the dashboard. We see the radio, the adjusting seats, the back for luggage. We get in. We drive away, my hair blowing a little back and forth against my cheek.

Barbecued Hamburger (“can be kept in Refrigerator and just as good reheated” my Norwegian Grandmother writes my Mom.)

1 pound of ground hamburger or ground round simmered with a little fat and about 1/2 cup onions. (Recipe calls for 1 cup onions but that’s too much.) 1 can Tomato soup, 1 tablespoon sugar, 3 tablespoons ketchup, 1 teaspoon prepared mustard. Simmer the hamburger and chop it up with a pancake turner. Fry lightly, add the rest and simmer. “Try it and let me know how you like it” she writes at the end.

Good to have on hand when you are cutting hair and racing to the doctor in your new car.