Remember “My Mother the Car,” that wacky 1966 show, which starred Jerry Van Dyke as a guy whose deceased mother was reincarnated as a car?
Well, Smartmom has her late father’s Subaru Impreza now and it reminds her of that classic. Sort of.
It’s not like her dad — Groovy Grandpa — has been reincarnated as the car or that his spirits are in there, but there is something. When Smartmom is in the car, she feels a connection with her dad and the way he did things. Little discoveries:
• Oh, that’s where he kept that card he used to get into the garage!
• Why did he put the tire gauge in that dashboard compartment? It makes so much noise when it rolls around.
• Why are all those books he bought at a library sale in the back?
Truly, the car that really epitomizes Groovy Grandpa is the light blue Austin Healey, that was the family car from the time Smartmom was born until she was about 8.
Now that was a great car. Manhattan Granny and Groovy Grandpa bought it on a trip to England in 1957, during the “Two for the Road” phase of their marriage. In pictures from those days, Manhattan Granny looks very Jean Seberg with her short, dark hair and Groovy Grandpa is awfully handsome with his neatly trimmed beard and tweed jacket. The two of them drove to Italy and later shipped the car home to New York.
After a while, young Smartmom and Diaper Diva got too big to fit in the tiny back seat of the sporty, four-seat convertible, so her father sold it.
Groovy Grandpa didn’t have a car for years after that (they always rented). But when he got a house upstate, he bought a few cars over the years.
Finally, the Subaru Impreza.
On Aug. 19, just weeks before Groovy Grandpa died, Smartmom was driving out of the driveway of the house she and Hepcat rent in Sag Harbor very, very slowly. Suddenly, there was a Land Rover in the rear window, small at first, then bigger and then huge.
The right rear tail light of the Subaru was SMASHED. The Land Rover had no damage whatsoever. It was like hitting a brick.
The car looked awful and Smartmom cried like a teenager, “My dad is going to kill me.” All the way home on the Long Island Expressway, she was in a panic about telling Groovy Grandpa.
The next day, he started to ask questions and worried about his insurance. He wanted her to get some estimates for repairs. When Smartmom called from a Fourth Avenue collision place with a rough estimate off $2,000, he got angry.
“Are you kidding me? Leave. Go to another place.”
Hepcat was out of town at the time, and Groovy Grandpa told Smartmom to wait for him to get back (Groovy Grandpa was a bit of a sexist about women drivers).
“Let him take care of it,” Groovy Grandpa told her.
Smartmom hated to bother her father with the details of this silly fender bender when he wasn’t feeling well. But on some level, it was a welcome distraction for both of them. Something to talk about other than symptoms, medications, and chemotherapy. And yeah, they had a couple of fights about it. He was a little patronizing.
“Why were you driving the car anyway?” he said. “Your sister is a much better driver.”
Not long after that, he went into the hospital for two weeks, where they talked about it a couple of times. Her father died at home on Sept. 7.
Smartmom couldn’t even think about the car for a while. Finally, she called the insurance company and they sent an adjuster to look at the car. The guy called and said that the car was a “total loss.”
Total loss. Smartmom knew all about loss. Her father was gone.
Of course, the insurance guy merely meant that the car exceeded its value. He offered her a check and said that the company would be happy to take it away.
Something felt wrong. Smartmom wanted to keep the car and Hepcat believed that they could have it fixed for less money. Finally, a collision place on Sackett Street called Gino’s was able to fix the car for $750.
So Smartmom picked it up and was happy to have her car — her father’s car — back. She has all sorts of plans about where she wants to go — a cross-country road trip; an upstate cruise to visit Gluten Free and Dadu on a whim; trips to Costco and Fairway — but for now, it sits there on Third Street.
Her father the car.
It makes her happy just to see it.