It was during the Summer of Love when I met the Chevelle. When my date opened the passenger door, I thought it strange how he communed with his car, like he was introducing me to a revered friend. I learned the Chevelle was his first love. Passionately pampered, it was his pride and joy. I came to grasp that as Jim’s religious beliefs enriched the spiritual, the Chevelle enhanced the temporal. He valued it as if it had a living soul. The Mountain Green, 1967, SS396 was a vehicle which coursed the changing landscape of our story.
The Chevelle rendered everyday transportation during the early years of our life together. On a seductive evening in May 1968, my engagement ring found its way from the glove box to the fourth finger of my left hand. Five months later, the Chevelle roamed leisurely through the north woods of Wisconsin, its occupants rejoicing in the magic of a honeymoon. It gently embraced our baby girl, escorting her from the hospital to the safety of our home. Its reliance was preeminent, never causing us a day of grief – – not until I got behind the wheel.
Life’s circumstances consigned the Chevelle as my daily driver. It didn’t seem to like me very much. Every time I got behind the wheel we duked it out. My contempt for its 4-speed manual transmission, whose clutch my foot couldn’t fully engage, and the absence of power steering exhausted not only my energy but my last nerve as well. After several weeks I couldn’t take it anymore. We’d bullied each other one too many times. I suggested trading the Chevelle in.
Family considerations don’t always make a man happy, especially when the man has assigned human qualities to his favorite “thing”. Asking Jim to trade in his pride and joy was like asking him to sacrifice his first-born as testament to his love for family. However, the good man he was, he agreed to the Chevelle’s sale.
A buyer was found, they negotiated a deal, and arrangements were made for the pickup. The money and title were exchanged. While waving an admonitory finger to the Chevelle’s new caretaker, Jim handed over the keys. His expression was pained. “Take good care of her,” he cried.
Years later and once again life changed. Divorced, Jim decided to search for his first love. He found the Chevelle beaten and bruised in a barn in Elkhorn, Wisconsin; old enough to be considered classic. Jim bought it back and restored it to life.
The Chevelle’s newfound resplendency nourished our second go-around as husband and wife, and our social life in Tennessee. Newly painted in red, the Chevelle attracted other car people to our lives, some who became car show acquaintances, Jim’s best buddies, or our dearest friends.
When Jim died, the Chevelle and I moved to Illinois. Even though I still couldn’t drive it, I couldn’t sell it. It became a good friend. I admired it, I stroked it and, just like Jim, I communed with it. In the early months after Jim’s passing, I pleaded with God and Jim for one beep on the Chevelle’s horn to let me know Jim was okay. Silence. I didn’t give up. I waited and waited, and prayed some more, and just about when all hope was gone, the Chevelle beeped. Startled, my body shook. To be certain I wasn’t going crazy, I asked for another beep. The car beeped two more times. Relief overwhelmed me. Jim was okay. The proof was in the beep.
I used to consider this virile icon of the past as merely a machine, an expensive plaything. But the Chevelle’s life-giving force has been proven by the memory it holds and the answer it has provided me. The essence of its soul is engrained in mine. Always, when I ponder days past, the Chevelle is there, its memory celebrating Jim’s and my forty years together.
It’s been seven years since Jim’s death. It’s time to pass this icon to the next generation. When the Chevelle leaves my garage for its next home, my wish is that the pattern continues and creating a new set of memories will be the car’s destiny. What is life, anyway, except to collect and hold those good memories with those we love?
Marie Malicki is a member of the In Print Professional Writers Organization and its former secretary. A veteran of corporate banking, Marie is an avid reader, caregiver advocate, and road trip enthusiast. Marie is currently working on several short stories, and to honor caregivers, a memoir entitled: “At Twelfth and Marquette”. Marie resides in Loves Park, IL with her dog Bella.