Wandering with my eyes and heart open, searching for pieces to add to my own personal big picture.

Tag: grandparents

1979 Datsun 210: A Grandpa Story

1979 Datsun 210
Not MY 210 but one like it.

I wrote 2-10-22 in my journal this morning and smiled. 210. My first car was a 1979 Datsun 210 much like the one pictured here. I loved that car.

When we were kids, probably 12 or 13 years old, my grandpa taught my brother and I how to drive. He drove a manual transmission 1979 Datsun 210. And one day he drove us out between the fields and stopped on the side of the road. Dairy cows watched us watch him get out and slip blocks he had made onto the pedals.

“What are you doing grandpa?”

“What does it look like I’m doing?”

Incredulous, as if we must be the dumbest kids he ever met.

“Did you build a machine to drive the car?” my brother asked.

I kept quiet.

Grandpa stood up and took a step back. Hands on his brown polyester slacked hips, balding head in shining in the sun, I saw his grin. I can still see it. He was usually pretty proud of his wild ideas.

“Hop in there and see if you reach the pedals.”

Without a moment’s hesitation, my younger brother jumped into the driver’s seat. This was a car, a machine. Grandpa MUST be talking to him. I hung back and watched, unsure of what the plan was. I never was one to go running toward anything I wasn’t completely sure of.

Grandpa moved the seat up as far as it would go and reached in to adjust the pedals.

“See if you can push the pedals all the way down.”

With effort he could.

“If he can reach, so can you.” He tossed the words back at me over his shoulder as if he could hear my mind wondering. A thrill rushed through me. I can’t say if it was excitement or fear.

My brother was beside himself with excitement. To us, back then, driving was the beginning of everything. It was a ticket to freedom and independence. Sure, we were still far too young to get a driver’s license in California. Years away, in fact. But we were trusted and getting to learn the ropes and that was one step closer.

“Now, listen close. Your right foot is for the gas and the brake. Your left foot is for the clutch. Got it?”

My brother gripping the steering wheel, pulling himself closer to the pedals, his eyes wandering all over the car in wonder. “Yeah.”

“You’re not paying attention. Look at me and listen.” My grandpa’s impatient voice, the one that warned you to shape up.

For a moment, my brother’s eyes were glued to grandpa’s face but as soon as he started to talk, they went back to the windshield and the panel. His hand moved to the stick shift. My grandpa’s hand moved quicker and cracked it away like a whip. Now he had my brother’s attention.

“If you can’t listen, you can’t drive. I mean it.”

All eyes are locked on grandpa now, mine included. He does not expect to repeat himself for those who were present when he said it the first time. When grandpa is talking, he is talking to the whole room.

The lesson moved on. My grandpa is in the passenger seat, my 12-year-old brother in the driver’s. I’m in the backseat watching carefully.

These lessons went on as you might expect with young kids first learning the finesse of a five-speed manual transmission, with lurches and stalls, curse words and gasps. Sure, this was California, but we lived in a mostly rural community back then surrounded by dairies, chicken farms, alfalfa, and corn fields. There was plenty of room on these roads for a couple of kids and their grandpa to learn to drive.

We had a blast every time we went out. And the blocks with bungie cords stapled to one end stayed in the back seat just in case we needed to take the wheel, at least that’s what we thought.

We took turns driving around the fields for several weekends in a row. Once we had the hang of driving on flat roads, coming to a stop, turning around, and parking, my grandpa graduated us to starting while the car was pointed uphill. In a manual transmission, this is the trickiest lesson other than parallel parking (which I have never mastered).

There was no warning that I remember. There I was, driving along the empty road as it started to incline, when my grandpa told me to stop the car. I did and then looked at him, one foot on the clutch the other on the brake.

“Why are we stopped?”

“What if the light turns red on a hill, you stop, and there are cars behind you? Can you get going again without rolling backwards?”

“Of course!” I take my foot off the brake and start for the gas, but the car rolls back. I slam my foot back on the brake and look at him wide eyed.

I can still see his sideways grin as he chuckles, “Yeah. You didn’t think of that, did you, smartass?”

My eyes narrow at him, and I grin in determination. My grandpa and I are peas in a pod, both stubborn, both inclined to be a bit explosive, both tend to be egged on by a challenge. I grip the steering wheel and pull myself upright to think.

Over and over again, I start to roll back and then stop, until I get the idea to sneak my heel over to the gas before letting my toes off the brake. Seemingly all at once, I let of the brake, give it gas, let out the clutch and away we go.

“Stop!”

I stop. “What? Why?”

“Do it again.”

By the time we were done, my brother and I could hold the car at stop going uphill, the clutch and gas balanced for a moment before speeding off. We were both well-versed in driving years before we were allowed to take Driver’s Education in high school and then get our licenses.

I don’t know why it was so important to him that we learn to drive so early. I guess it didn’t seem early to him. Looking back, it’s still a wonderful memory, one of the proud ones I used to tell my kids when they were learning to drive our Baja Bug with their dad in the desert. They also were well-versed by the time they were old enough for a license.

My grandpa gave me that 1979 Datsun 210 when I turned 16 in 1988. I drove it nearly six months before I rear-ended someone getting off the freeway, a probably expected. The only one with a driver’s license at the time, several friends and I piled into my little car to take ourselves to Knott’s Scary Farm for Halloween.

1979 Datsun 210
I never thought to take a picture of my first car back then!
But, this is me dressed as Elvira…to go to school. Different times.

It wasn’t too bad of an accident, no physical injuries. Only my precious car didn’t make it, and my pride was badly bruised. My mom came to the rescue and had the car towed home. She dropped us off at Knott’s to enjoy the night despite the trouble getting there.

Funny, I’m thinking… How did I call her? There were no cell phones. I was on the freeway. The police were there. Maybe they called my mom? I can’t remember. It reminds me how awesome cell phones are though. My sons have been all over the world and I can always at least get a text message almost immediately.

Stopping in the drop off area in front of Knott’s Scary Farm, I lean over to my mom. “I’m sorry, mom.” I was pretty shaken up, not knowing what was going to happen next.

“Go play with your friends, baby. Don’t worry. We’ll figure out what to do tomorrow.” She kissed my head, and we ran off into the Halloween fog and screams.

Within a few days my grandpa found another 1979 Datsun 210 at the junk yard for $200. Over the next few weeks, I watched him and my brother switch the old engine into the new body in our driveway. I cleaned up the inside of the old car, vacuuming out the seats and floor, wiping down the dashboard and dials. My brother came running in to show me the dead mouse he found in an air-conditioning duct. It was a family project.

1979 Datsun 210
This was my first day working at Disneyland when I was 17 with my UPGRADED car!

And I loved the new 1979 Datsun 210 more than old one because it was orange and a coupe instead of a hatchback, way cooler. I drove it until my brother turned sixteen, then passed it on to him when I bought an ’86 Ford Ranger, but that’s another story.

Want to read more family stories? Click over to What Are Dreams Anyway?

A Christmas Story

This one is even more rough than usual, so please bear with me.

I didn’t have a lot of time to read this morning. I have plans to meet my youngest son for a hike and need to leave the house a 7am if I’m going to get to our meeting place at a reasonable time. That’s one reason I don’t have much to report on Trotsky’s The History of the Russian Revolution.

The other reason is that I’m a tad lost already. History is complicated, especially to read. If it’s too simple, then you miss the bigger picture. If it’s too detailed, you can get bogged down and give up. I wouldn’t consider myself a real student of history, more of a dabbler, so the Russian Revolution era is a rough row to hoe for me. I love it though, and I know from experience to keep reading even when I feel like I’m lost in the weeds of who, what, where, and how. I’ll find something useful if I keep going. Time reading is never wasted.

Friday, I spent outside, despite the cold wind, and got some of the garage cleaned up and ready for the next project. I finally put away the Christmas boxes, after going through them and donating the last of the old things I don’t use anymore. It felt great getting tired and dirt-covered!

The wind was blowing even harder on Saturday morning, so I started my next indoor project.

christmas story

These are houses from my grandpa’s Christmas village. He made them in the 60’s when he and my grandma had a ceramics business they ran out of their garage. As a kid, I remember the big kiln in the corner, the stacks of molds bound together with fat rubber bands, the smell of clay. I’d make small sculptures from scraps and blobs of half dry ceramic and fire them in the kiln alongside grandma’s angels and bears. When I was older, grandpa let me scrap the seams on pieces left behind from the casting molds with a razor blade. I never got into painting much. I didn’t have the patience or the steady hand for it.

Years ago, I’m not sure if it was before or after my grandma passed away, my grandpa finally got rid of all those supplies. The kiln and many molds were still in his garage. I wanted to badly to bring them home and store them in mine, but I knew it would be years before I could ever spend time at a hobby like that. I didn’t have the space to store them all properly so they weren’t ruined. It was hard, but I let someone else take them. I don’t remember where they went.

When my grandpa moved out of his home and into my mom’s, we were going through stuff in his garage. He needed to downsize in a big way, and I was trying to help. In a box I found some of grandma’s Christmas decorations, the angels I remember being so hard to get out of the mold without cracking their slender necks, the three kings she worked so hard on painting and decking with jewels, among some other pieces.

I also found the houses. I don’t remember them being made, they were older than me, but I do remember seeing them under my grandparent’s Christmas tree. When I saw them in the bottom of the box, with their faded hand painted colors, I had to have them.

Each year I put them up on a shelf, arranged with a blanket of fake snow under them. They are too precious to leave on the floor under the tree. One year, I got a set of the Rankin/Bass Rudolf characters. My houses remind me of the Island of Misfit toys, so I set the characters up next to the houses. I’ve said I would make a backdrop for the houses, and decorate the whole shelf like the movie, for years, but haven’t got around to it.

Here comes the tragedy, so hold on to yourself.

The day after Christmas 2020, with covid BS, one son moved out and couldn’t come home because he was sick, one on his way out to go to university, I sat there on my couch…ok with life, but a little sad, when I heard the cat jump, a scratch, and then…the fall. I didn’t look. It’s making me cry just writing this a year later.

I was frozen, looking at my husband across the couch. “I can’t look. Oh, god.” I started to cry. It sounds so dumb, but dammit. Why? What else could go wrong? “Worst year ever!” I yelled.

Once I had myself under control, I went to inspect the damage. It wasn’t as bad as I thought. Only two houses had a piece broken out of them, and it looked like it would be easy to repair. The church, on the other hand, I wasn’t so sure. I got a tray and carefully collected all the pieces, down to the tiniest sliver I could find.

The cat had jumped up to walk over the top of the bookcase as he typically does. Walking across the fluffy carpet of snow, he got a claw stuck, shook it get loose, and knocked a house over. Because the houses are lit up from underneath by a string of Christmas lights, they were all pulled over the side, one by one. If I am going to keep putting this set up after I repaired it, I am going to have to find a better way.

So…it’s over a year later and I’m repairing the houses. I can’t match the paint exactly, and they are rather old and faded, so I’m repainting them all. The sparkly snow is dull and dirty, so I ordered some new paint to make them beautiful again. I’m having so much fun working on them. When I’m done painting, I’ll work on making a better lighting system, a background of the Castle of the King of Misfit Toys, and small stands for all the characters so the village looks less like a drunken festival.

Thanks for sticking with me on this one. The story needed to be told. And now I’m off to go hiking with my boy. Hopefully I can keep up this time!

All Characters Are Important to the Story

All characters are important quote from the book on a desert background.

“I’ve come to the conclusion that you just can’t subtract a human from the story, no matter how hard you try. Even death doesn’t do that.”

The Library of the Unwritten by A.J. Hackwith

In fiction and reality,
all characters are important to the story.

Yes, even the minor ones, the angels and demons, the good guys and bad guys. Everyone leaves a mark on your life, moves the story along, or simply creates depth to a moment in time.

My grandfather died. He was 86. Dementia took nearly ten years to fully claim his mind and he had been living in a memory care facility for the past year. So…to many of us…he was already gone. To those closest to him physically, his caregivers and my Mom, he was still a main character and his loss is strongly felt. To some of his family, he had faded into the background of their story long ago. And to others, he had been deleted completely, or so they think.

This quote reminded me of him and many other characters in my own life story, all of which are important and can’t be subtracted, even those I really wish could be. The cruel teacher from elementary school, the mean girl in junior high, the abusive boyfriend; heaven knows I’ve tried to erase those memories. Even if I were successful in erasing the memory of an event, I would still feel its effect on my life, like the way we “see” a blackhole in space. The event isn’t seen, it’s felt. To ignore that feeling, those clues, and continue your journey is a recipe for disaster.

The people in our past, the choices we’ve made, the opportunities we’ve taken or let pass, those memories aren’t all we have.

We have the imprint of those things on our life story. If we subtract people or events from our lives, the story is inconsistent. When we try to effectively work our way through the life we have today, we can feel like pages are missing. Things just don’t make sense. It’s extremely difficult, I’d say impossible, to work through a story with missing chapters or characters; to complete a puzzle with missing pieces.

He’s been gone from my daily life for many years now, but I still miss my Pop, more so now that he is physically missing from the world.

My grandfather was a major character in my life story, one of my biggest influencers growing up.

The older I get, the more I see him in myself. We both suffer from anxiety, a deep need to control the world around us, not to be in charge or the boss, but to make things easier for ourselves and hopefully the people in our lives. Our response to the overwhelming stress of trying to control outcomes typically results in anger and frustration, sometimes violence. We both feel things deeply and are known for our passionate responses. From the awe of a beautiful garden or majestic scene to the love of our families, from the excitement of a new experience to the frustration of dealing with troubles, neither of us has moderate feelings, only big, sometimes scary ones. In my case, I’m told that it’s part of my charm. In my Pop’s case, it was a demerit against him. I guess it just depends on who is judging, whether you are a positive or negative, a major or minor character in their story.

Characters, humans, cannot be subtracted from your story.

When you try to do so, you leave holes big and small. Holes are a mess to work around. A story with characters, paragraphs, chapters, or pages missing does nothing for anyone. Leave the bad parts, the rough parts, and the scary parts right where you can see and use them. Those people are part of you. For better or for worse, they made you who you are today.


Want to read this book? You can find it at Amazon HERE.
Want to read more quotes from this book?

Will We Lose Ourselves in the Virtual Reality?
Anxiety: The Lies My Brain Tells Me
Would You Want to Come Back for a Day?
Do We Have the Ability to Change the Meaning of Our Life Story?

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