“A good life is a collection of happy memories.”
— Denis E. Waitley, American motivational speaker, writer and consultant
Memories that may or may not have inspired Bob Dylan’s song, “Ballad from a Buick 6” notwithstanding, many of mine shine brighter than all the chrome on one of the big 50s cruisers.
Good memories are the basis for a good life as well as many a good story worth telling. I’m also convinced that memories also help to shape our lives and determine why we enjoy some things more than others.
Friend and mentor, Jim Chionsini, sent me a photo last week of a superb ’53 Buick Skylark convertible belonging to an acquaintance of his. The car captured highest honors at the 2019 Buick Club of America (BCA) Show recently in the Oklahoma City suburb of Midwest City.
The dark blue beauty was indeed a fine specimen of automotive history at the pinnacle of motoring excellence when every car on the road possessed a unique style and personality making each one easily distinguishable from others. Cars of that era were new when I was a kid and I remember easily differentiating a Buick Roadmaster from a Chevrolet Bel-Air at a country mile with one eye while admiring a new Ford Crown Victoria with the other.
That ability went hand-in-hand with developing an affinity for the aroma of gas and oil and the dazzle of chrome plating at an early age. Fond memories include spending a whole week’s allowance on the latest issue of Car Craft magazine and reading Tom McCahill’s automotive column in Popular Mechanics at the barber shop on Saturday.
“Gorgeous example of a rare car,” I responded to Jim’s message. “Reminds me of a childhood memory of spending a few days with my aunt and uncle in Kentucky. They were newly married students at Kentucky Wesleyan where someone drove a big ol’ new Buick convertible.”
My Aunt Jo, my Mom’s younger sister and one of the Johnson siblings from Winchester, Kentucky, married Fred Scott from Hazard, Kentucky, who also admired distinctive vehicles himself.
Remembering the Buick convertible from that summer long ago, I can’t tell you if it was one of the rare Skylark models, but the car none-the-less made an impression on me even at that young age. Uncle Freddie owned at least one Buick himself that I recall, a big black fastback model called the Sedanette with Buick’s signature Straight-8 engine dubbed the “Fireball 8.” Specifically, I remember a trip in that car where we spent several hours one night at a roadside hamburger joint somewhere in Oklahoma waiting to meet my Uncle Bill who was coming from California in a ’49 Mercury convertible. We were all headed to a family reunion and the waiting part occurred because no one knew Bill was stuck at a repair shop somewhere else in the Sooner State after the big Merc broke down.
A couple more memories from that Kentucky summer visit include discovering clover and the fact that it came in three-leaf and four-leaf varieties. That was huge for a youngster who was yet to enter the first grade. I still remember searching for one with four leaves among the blades of grass outside a small tavern where Uncle Freddie took me with him one afternoon.
And that’s the other memory. The color of the neon lights in the tavern, the pool tables and the sound of the balls hitting each other, and the glow of the jukebox filling the establishment with the Big Band music of Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey and Artie Shaw.
Reflecting on all of these wonderful memories, I’m thinking that I probably owe my Uncle Freddie a large debt of gratitude for some of the things that I appreciate even today. He may very well have played a pivotal role in the fact that I have always harbored a fondness for big cars from the age of motoring excellence, and for taverns with neon lights, pool tables, and jukeboxes.
Especially one that might still have a tune like “Ballad from a Buick 6” vibrating the speakers.
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