“Early morning sunlight fell from the upper windows of the cavernous building in downtown Center and bounced off her graceful, timeless curves. Her aging body showed signs of wear, but for an old girl her age, she was still a beauty in the dim light as well as in my heart.”
So began a column I wrote 22 years ago this month while serving as editor and publisher of the Boerne Star in the Texas Hill Country. The weekly newspaper piece was about “Liz,” a member of the Aldridge family for 59 years come this November.
The story of Liz in the 1993 story continued: “The old green ’57 Ford affectionately dubbed “Liz” by my father’s mother sat silently. The car never objected to being neglected while others in the collection were driven and pampered. One might have surmised she actually enjoyed the peace and quiet of retirement, and furthermore relished in her warehouse storage space alongside a varying variety of vintage cousins.
“Over a dozen or so years, scores of wrecking yard refugees came and went in a seeming quest to resurrect and relive automotive history from the 5Os and 6Os. At first, I paraded tail-finned, rag-topped, white-walled and chrome-plated memories past her as she sat quietly and watched.
“But as the dual-carburetor, dual-exhaust, gas guzzlers of a previous generation passed in and out of the building, one remained. On this particular morning, three survivors were being surveyed in preparation for yet another move to a new home in Pipe Creek, Texas. One of them was granny’s Liz.
“My fingers disturbed the thin coating of dust on her still smooth skin sending particles swirling through the air as they twinkled in beams of morning sunlight.
“I opened the driver’s door and once again smiled at the aroma greeting my nostrils. The interiors of old cars always present a unique smell, regardless of their age, make or background—a unique olfactory experience that I prefer over that of a showroom new car any day.
“The seat springs groaned lightly beneath my weight. ‘Not bad for an all-original car,’ I thought as I scanned the metal and chrome dash, then gazed across the expanse of the big green hood. I touched the ignition switch, but on this particular morning, I let Liz rest choosing the peace of deafening silence in the warehouse over that of her V-8 motor.
“Liz was born at the Garland, Texas Ford assembly plant in the fall of 1956 and was welcomed into into the Aldridge family in November at Travis Battles Ford dealership in Pittsburg, Texas. For a quarter of a century, she lived in a white frame garage at the corner of Cypress and Madison Streets in Pittsburg and ran errands for my father’s parents—to town, to work, to the doctor. On many of those trips, I was a youngster in the back seat watching my grandmother drive and listening to my grandfather caution her at every intersection, ‘Watch out sister,’ he might say, ‘There’s a stop sign ahead.’
“After age and illness confined him to a bed, Liz hibernated, untouched in the garage. Several Christmas seasons passed while my grandmother stayed home to care for the man she loved. When he died just days before Christmas of 1967, dad and I went to the garage to check on Liz. Although suffering from neglect, she had traveled only 17,000 miles in ten years, and a new battery and some fresh gas brought her back to life.
“Granny and Liz were quickly reunited, and the two were back on the street going places of which neither had likely dreamed in a while. The old Ford responded well to granny’s loving touches, and the “green blur” with the little old lady peeping over the steering wheel was once again a common sight buzzing around Pittsburg.
“It was the summer of l98I that granny gave in to the temptation of power steering, automatic transmissions and air conditioning. “You still want Liz,” she asked one day.
“You know I do,” I replied, and Liz was headed for a new home in Center.
“Summer’s late evening breeze wafted the smell of freshly mowed grass through the open windows as I guided Liz south that Saturday in May. Driving the old car kindled long forgotten memory after memory. Driving lessons from my grandfather on shifting a “three-on-the-tree;” cruising the Kilgore College campus when Liz served subbing for one of my ailing hot rods; and dating. “Vivian Thompson, where are you today,” I mused that summer afternoon.
“Opening my eyes and looking at the empty seat beside me on this day was an instant return trip to reality. The memories stirred by the old car were very real, but old girl friends were still only a memory. Giving a gentle push to Liz’s door brought the usual solid and rewarding ‘click’ as the door closed and latched with ease.
“I walked away a few steps and stopped to look back. Liz sat majestically in the corner bidding me good-bye with a gleam in her chrome. She knew it would be a while before I came calling again. But she also knew I would be back another day to share in the secrets the old car and I knew on each other.”
The scenario above has been replayed numerous times since that column appeared in print, but Liz is still in the family. She still sits quietly in the garage wearing only 46,000 miles and all but a few of the parts she left the factory with 59 years ago. She still mostly sits at home while her ’55 Ford Crown Victoria and ’57 Ford Thunderbird current cousins enjoy the parties on cruise nights and at car shows.
But, she knows that when the more glamorous and valuable garage mates have moved on, as others before them have, she’s the family member with the priceless memories. And she also knows that she will be the last one to leave the ball when the lights are dimmed for the last time.
— Leon Aldridge
Adapted from a column originally published in the Boerne (Texas) Star September 1993