Today would have been Dad’s 85th birthday. I ponder whether that’s a useless exercise or if it’s something important in my mind. Many times, I think about a phrase that he repeated for years, “woulda, shoulda, coulda,” meaning: what’s the point about what could have taken place.
Whether one calls this thought about what could have been or Monday Morning Quarterbacking, there’s always another memory that pops up in my mind with each milestone after Dad’s passing.
“What would Dad think about the president?
“What would Dad think about this new piece of technology?”
Those thoughts never stop as the days, weeks, months and years pass.
On what would have been his 85th birthday, I think of the cars that Dad drove and, I think about a car that my oldest sister affectionately called Big Mike. Like many of us, Aimee gave the family cars their own personality. The 1975 Camaro was Sylvia and her early 1980s Toyota Corolla was known as Dennis – or was it Denis, because I could have sworn that car had a French twist even though it came from Japan.
Big Mike was a blue 1972 Pontiac Bonneville. The car was spacious, meaning that all five us comfortably sat in Big Mike – unlike Sylvia, the sporty Camaro that had a hump in the back in which I sat on for the family drives throughout Northeast Ohio. Sylvia didn’t make many trips, but Big Mike took on those duties on those lazy Sundays in which my dad drove the family around to places to Roscoe Village in Coshocton, Ohio or to a farm in the Buckeye State’s Holmes County.
Fortunately, Big Mike didn’t experience any huge wrecks. Well, there was that one time a clueless person backed into the front right fender in a busy shopping plaza. For the most part, Big Mike operated unscathed – unlike the 1978 Oldsmobile Delta 88, which met its untimely demise in the autumn of 1982. I don’t think that then-luxury sedan had a name. Its 1983 replacement did and was known as Alexander, who would later take me on several back and forth trips to college a few years later.
Big Mike appeared in some of my Super 8mm films, most notably in a summer 1980 film called The Stuntman, in which I am animating myself going over Big Mike.
The old joke was in Ohio in the mid-1970s was that there were two seasons: winter and construction. Indeed, that was an old running joke that jumped off one of Lake Erie’s cliffs by the time 1980 arrived. Like most Northeast Ohio families, our trips in Big Mike took place during construction season. Sometimes that construction would be the root cause of a flat tire that briefly sidelined Big Mike on I-271 not too far from our final exit off that interstate. Mother was not happy about that mishap nor the times Big Mike ventured into less than savory territory -- whether it was on a local drive or a long-distance trip.
In winter, Big Mike got Dad to work and back with a little help from studded snow tires – which I believe, would be banned in Ohio and I am sure, plenty of other states. Like most vehicles, the winter weather beat the daylights out of Big Mike. Rust became synonymous with the car’s well-worn body. In Big Mike’s early years Dad performed the tune-ups, tire changes and changed out a part or two. No matter how much work Dad did on that 1972 Pontiac, the elements beat him, and the car grew more tired and louder. On many nights upon Dad’s return to the house, it sounded like a helicopter was landing in the driveway.
Dad finally traded in Big Mike in 1981. There were too many cars in the driveway during certain parts of the year like when Aimee came to visit with Dennis. So, I’m not asking how things would have been if we kept Big Mike any longer. It was his time. Still, like Dad, I miss Big Mike.