First year of college behind me, I was ready to head over the mountains to San Francisco, the promised land for someone who needed to kick valley home dust off her sandals. It was June, 1966, and I could not wait to escape the somnambulance of life in a place where Civil Rights, Cesar Chavez, and Viet Nam were but a few of the causes, people and places better left alone, undiscussed. Turkeys, peaches, almonds, football, baseball, cars, dresses, neighbors, and the cost of Wonder Bread; speak of at will. Disagreeable, inflammatory topics, not allowed without extreme repercussions; house rules. So, with all the hubris I could pack into the suitcase called me, good-byes were said to my prosaic valley life, and I moved to the Bay Area, expectations of finally joining people of like-mindedness soaring.
My friend since second grade and I had agreed to embark on our adventures, together. We knew what was required to reach our goals: obtain jobs that would support us, cars to get us there and back again, and an apartment for home base. Easy. Neither one of us had known anything in our lives but success, and it never occurred to us this would not continue to be the norm. Believing in ourselves had its advantages; because failure was not a consideration, we achieved almost everything we had aimed for within weeks of arriving in the Bay Area. Interestingly, both our jobs were in Palo Alto, so we seemed to be on parallel tracks, moving forward in our mutual plans to participate in, what we perceived as, a really significant time in personal and national history.
Finding myself at last in the mecca of flower power, the hub of all things hip and happening, I was deliriously happy and heady with my newly achieved cool factor. I had made it. Finally, reaching this defining moment and place for which I had dreamed all my life, and for which I had waited patiently, enduring the stifling and oppressive clutches of valley home until that time arrived, I indeed had made it; with one small exception. And back then, it was a huge exception.
My parents telephoned in the middle of the week to say they had a surprise for me, and I needed to come home over the weekend to pick it up. I instantly knew what it was. The one remaining thing I needed for a complete transition to an independent life in the Bay Area was a car. I had my eye on a VW Bug, powder blue, cute and affordable. It was the dream car, which, of course, fit perfectly into a new hip lifestyle I had fashioned for myself. There had been considerable discussion about the type of car I needed, safety, economy, reliability all being important in my parents’ mindset. I wanted small, cute, and powder blue. And, I was the one who would be driving the car, so it seemed pretty simple: we should go with what I would be happy driving.
They had made the ninety mile trip to pick me up on that lovely autumn morning, driven me back to our valley home, and as we turned onto our street, I saw my new car from the end of the block. To say my mouth dropped to the floor of the back seat of my parents’ car would be an understatement. As we got closer to it, I was struck mute, wide-eyed and definitely mute. I still recall with absolute clarity the look of joy on both my parents’ faces as we pulled into our driveway, and my dad turning around and asking me what I thought.
Holy cows on crutches, I did not have a single word in my mind that would exit my mouth. They were beaming, and I was staring in complete disbelief. My dad, still grinning ear to ear, held up a set of keys, and told me they were mine. He wanted to know my response, and I was immobilized mentally and physically.
I desperately tried to think of something to say, anything, anything, anything. Not a word. Finally, my mother said she thought it would be a good idea to get out of their car, and look a little closer at my new one. Oh, I had to come up with something, fast. I remember reaching out to touch my car, my gift of love and affection from parents whose abiding concern for me compelled them to give me the best vehicle they could find for my driving circumstances in an area far from their watchful care. If ever parents were successful in a particular endeavor, I would say mine catapulted to the top of the list with that effort and that car. I patted, walked around, crawled inside my new car, and sat in the driver’s seat of the very last vehicle I ever expected to own.
As hugs were exchanged, tears trickled down my face, and thank yous were professed for the generous gift that I knew came from hearts filled with pride for their daughter who was determined to create something meaningful in her life. Hip and cool had just turned the corner onto safe and loved, and despite initial horror, that was a very good course correction.
Last night I quietly celebrated the anniversary of that gift. I looked up pictures of a 1958 Chrysler New Yorker Coupe, replete with the biggest fins I ever saw, and found that which cost my dad $200, and was in mint condition, now has a value of over $35,000. Funny how little that seems compared to the value of memories from time and lives now gone, and me wishing for just one more chance to say thank you for both.