Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Vehicles of Childhood

Last week I sat in BirchBark Books and read Lynda Barry's latest, What It Is (click on link and then click "preview" on Drawn and Quarterly's site for a PDF of 13 crammed-full pages from the book).

(Turns out this Native bookstore, owned by author Louise Erdrich, blogs on Blogger! From BirchBark Books "About Us":
"We are an independent bookstore, with all of the accompanying quirks and non-corporate eccentricities. As the malling of America continues, it is our mission to be other.")

Barry says when people write about who they are (like, in personal ads or "about me's"), mostly it comes out sounding like an obituary:
"born 19xx; educated here; moved there; # of cats; and so forth."
The last part of her book is a writer's workbook with exercises for getting in touch with something more than a list of facts.

It got me musing on memories of summers past--and on my mother's old Buick. I mean, it was old even when I was little. If it wasn't this model pictured, it was one very like it.

When I think of this car, it's like hauling in a netfull of memories:
Waiting in the car with Sister in the hot parking lot of the Piggly Wiggly grocery store while our mother "just runs in for a minute."
Pretending to steer the hard plastic steering wheel, with ridges for gripping all 'round.
Sitting in the torn back seat, eating the animal crackers out of the circus-wagon box with the string handle our mother brought back as a rare treat.

And from there, I see my mother, my model of Woman:

how she smoked through her lipstick, while she drove her big car, which she'd brought to the marriage. How she walked in high heels without looking down.
Her perfume was Joy, by Jean Patou, but the bottle she left behind only palely smells like her.

[Image of 1955 Buick Century Riviera four-door hardtop from HubcapCafe.]


momo said...

Thank you for reminding me that I still haven't been to that bookstore, and I must go. I love Lynda Barry's work with a passion, since I started reading her weekly cartoons in the East Bay Express back in Berkeley.

What an evocative set of memories.

fresca said...

Ernie Pook's Comeek, starring Marlys!!!
She makes my toes curl with glee.

BirchBark is GREAT, and there's a deli with wi-fi right next door where you can sit and read your new books or write. (I rarely buy books, and the bookstore is also totally friendly to people who curl up in their armchair for an hour or two.)
You'll love it, I think.

poodletail said...

Plus! Birchbark Books has a cool old confessional that doesn't look at all sinister anymore.

ddip said...

Aaaaah, what I remember about our mother in that car is BEGGING her to shift gears more smoothly! (LOL here really hard.) In our classic mother-daughter relationship, she "followed orders" from me (I couldn't even have been 10 years old) and asked me at one point, "Is that better dear?" It was.

That car had the gear shift on the steering column, by the way. Super sexy. Our mother was a super-sexy driver.

bink said...

I have to agree that your mother was a sexy driver. She had a breezy way of cruising in those big big boats while smoking her cigs (marked with her red lipstick) and making pronouncements that was very appealing...she was like an old fashioned movie star.

fresca said...

I think you can even sit in BirchBark's confessional! You certainly can buy "Wash Away Your Sins" soap and handwipes.

Our mother said she would have liked to be a race-car driver--I could see it!

mary said...

i feel as if i'm eavesdropping as you talk about your mother. you all seem to have known her. how wonderful. and i also learned that you and ddip are sisters.

i like your banter especially re: your "movie star" mother. my mother is just the opposite, barely dared to drive a car. we all had to be quiet when she stared it, and hold our breath until we arrived safely. she only wore lipstick for church and very lightly. i think she kept the same tube for years.

fresca said...

Mary: Actually most people who read GuGeo didn't know my mother;
but I know what you mean about eavesdropping.
I feel a bit like I've tuned in to a new reality show (which is sort of what blogs are, come to think of it) without any backstory explanations when I start reading someone else's blog.
Takes a while to figure out who's who.
Maybe I should write a "cast of characters" post. : )

(Briefly: Ddip is Sister, who writes "On My Plate" (live link to the right of my posts, on the "Links to Other Blogs," and Bink is my oldest friend, whose art you can link to at "Lucinda Naylor, Artist.")

(You've probably figured it out, but just in case: did you know that if you click on commenter's names when they show up in highlighted blue (like "momo" here), that will take you to their blog?)

I myself don't even have a driver's license. And I've used (barely) the same tube of lipstick for years too, like your mother.

You asked if I write poety, and I don't now, but I have. I do however appreciate the condensed prose of poetry and its reliance (often) on imagery rather than narration.
I like your poems.

Bookworm said...

Thanks for drawing my attention to What It Is - the preview alone is inspiring.

I remember pretending to drive my mum's car while it was parked in our drive - a yellow 2CV Citroen whose seats got boiling hot in the summer and stuck to your legs. I especially remember the time I was told off for beeping the horn. (It wasn't me, really...)

fresca said...

Hot plasticy seats that stick to the back of your sweaty legs--do I ever remember this!
And the particular ripping/sucking noises when you stood up!

Goes along with the scabby knees of childhood, and all those other things that seemed perenially normal, until you noticed you hadn't experienced them for years and years...