She’s Gone

We had a friend whose favorite saying was: “That’s an event to mark time by.” She recited that line every time something important happened. Weddings. Graduations. A new house. Retirement. My preferred metaphor for those events is comparing to a book. “We’ve turned a page.” Or “That’s a new chapter in our lives.”

Judy and I had another event to mark time by, perhaps a new section in the book, or maybe the next volume in a series. Our Blue Lady just rolled out the driveway, never to return.

If you’ve read this blog long, you maybe remember Jim talking about his hitchhiking experience in the early fifties. Someone in a 1953 Cadillac sedan picked him up in the middle of the night on a deserted road in the mountains of Virginia. He loved Cadillacs after that.

I inherited that love, partly because he taught me how to drive in a 1952 Cadillac coupé. I bought that car from him to take to college and into our first year of marriage. I learned a lot in college, and not just electrical engineering. My friend Brad showed me how to rebuild a carburetor on the ’52. Another friend helped me install new brake shoes on our ’65 Mustang. We did it in the parking lot of the engineering campus. The chairman of the electrical engineering department, “Father Ed,” let me use his garage and tools to rebuild the heads on that same Mustang. Those experiences hooked me on getting my hands dirty working on cars.

Cars in that era required a lot of maintenance, and we had little money, so I ended up doing a lot of the work myself. Tune-ups, oil changes, wheel bearing packing, and much more. We loved our ’52 Cadillac and drove it thousands of miles, including trips to visit my family in Denver. It started giving us trouble when a back wheel fell off. Then the driveshaft went out of balance. Then the transmission rear seal started leaking. We decided to move on, and sold the ’52 Cadillac for a ’65 Mustang.

Jim was disappointed. We were disappointed. Our family no longer had a Cadillac. Jim immediately bought another, a 1953 Sedan that he nicknamed “The Blue Lady.” Years later we bought the car from him. Maybe you read that story, too?

The Blue Lady was a centerpiece in our lives for a quarter century. Some good friends introduced us to the Antique Automobile Club of America, which opened us up to a universe of things to do with the old car. We participated in car shows, won trophies, drove in parades, and went on overnight tours which included visits to museums and attractions. We also made plenty of trips to the DQ for a cone and a shake.

Both of our children enjoyed the car shows, and Lon really got into the old car hobby. He and I rebuilt the Blue Lady’s engine in Gary’s garage. Judy and Mara would come out to the garage with Gary’s wife, bringing sodas and sandwiches. Jim came down often to join in week-long projects working on the car, often culminating with another car show trophy.

Life went on, and my old friend Gary died. The kids grew up and lost interest in the car. Jim died. Other friends in the car hobby moved on. I was losing interest.

Then, several years ago, on the way home from a car show at Mantorville’s Marigold Days, I discovered that the Cadillac’s left turn signal had quit working. I tried the most common fixes, but that couldn’t change the symptom.

Another couple of things dawned on me after I backed the car into the garage. None of my friends had been at the car show. Neither Judy nor Lon had joined me that day. My car skills had deteriorated so much that I couldn’t easily fix the electrical problem that showed up at the show … or fix other problems with the car. There were other things I wanted to do.

That next spring we never got the car out of the garage.

The following summer came and went, and the car didn’t move. That happened year after year.

One year an acquaintance suggested that he’d get the car running and help me sell it. Then he met a new girl and his interest in this old car owned by an older retired guy wasn’t as exciting. The car sat for another year.

Did you know that a car ages at the same rate whether it’s driven or not? Years of sitting were hard on the car. Dust and debris piled up. The car almost became a shelf. Some of the rust spots grew a little. I’m sure more defects had grown inside, but I had no energy to investigate.

The car sat in the garage.
And sat.
I made resolutions to sell it.
For several years.
Something had to change.

My New Year’s Resolutions for 2017 included selling the Blue Lady, with no restrictions. This spring I placed an advert in the largest Classic Car marketplace, Hemmings Motor News, and immediately received dozens of calls from around the country and around the world. A man from Colorado made the first real offer, sent a deposit check, and started making arrangements to pick up the car.

Have you noticed that not much happens according to plan? What you think should be a quick phone call to sign up for insurance takes an hour, and then there’s a follow-up call for another hour. The sale of the Blue Lady also took a detour. The buyer was without email access for a week, then had life complications that forced him to back out of the deal.

I reopened the advert on Hemming’s and started calling the people who missed out on the first offering. Within a couple of days there was another offer and check. We closed the deal. The buyer called a transport company to haul the car to Illinois.

Cadillac on the trailer

The first two car transport outfits had no idea just how big a 1953 Cadillac was. A 1965 Mustang is fifteen feet long. My car was five feet longer. The first two transporters couldn’t fit the car on their trailer.

The third try worked, and the car is gone. The guys loaded the Cadillac on the trailer and drove away. We stood and watched as the truck and trailer hauled the car away. Everything seemed to move too quickly.

Now the garage is empty. The house has more empty spots that had held books, spare parts, and other paraphernalia.

Sometimes change happens slowly and you don’t notice. My car maintenance skills degraded to the point where I have no reason to look under the hood of our family car. When did that happen? Maybe it happened around the time I lost interest in driving the Blue Lady. That was a slow loss and massive change (actually about two and a half tons of change). The car is gone, along with the physical memories of fifty years of fun with cars. Now our cars are transportation, not a hobby.

That was a day to mark time by. We’ve turned the page to a new chapter of our lives. It’s a sea change. While I will never again rebuild a V-8 engine or replace the brakes on a car, I do look forward to the next event that will change my life.

Maybe when we meet for coffee I can give you the back story on why the first buyer backed out of the deal.

Note: As of June 19, 2017, the car is offered for sale by Country Classic Cars.

Grandpa Guy Havelick