My son Liam has turned his life-long obsession into a vocation: repairing and reconditioning vintage automobiles.
He has a friend who was bequeathed a 1984 Buick Electra station wagon which is now in Liam’s shop where he is tasked with bringing it into “daily-driver” running condition. One fine day he was giving me a tour under the hood when he said to me, “Pop, come on a walk with me, I want to show you something.” Thus we began our journey to the back of the car. You read that right: “journey" — these automobiles are big. And although roundy-er, this Buick wagon looks pretty much the same as Buick wagons looked in the 1970s, complete with vinyl wood paneling. But one of the things that makes the 1984 model so snazzy, is that the tale gate both drops down and swings open depending on which handle you use. This affords easy loading if the seats are folded away, or easy crawling if the kids are piling into the rear-facing-wayback seat.
Ah yes, the rear-facing-wayback seat: a remnant of the decorous children-are-to-be-seen-and-not-heard attitudes of the generation of my father’s parents, an attitude my father inherited and fully embraced. And with the wayback seat, he had us at one cliché better: out of sight is out of mind.
• • •
At this point, I have to purloin material from my storytelling road friend and cohort, Bil Lepp. (Don’t worry about plagiarism, Bil will never see this.) Old station wagons of this era had ashtrays all over the interior, but no cupholders. Indeed, in the car my son is working on, there are even ashtrays for the kids in the rear-facing-wayback seat.
To that observation, I would like to add that this eight-passenger car only has two shoulder harnesses, one for the driver and one for the front passenger. This proves that back in the day, children were expendable.
• • •
When Liam and I finally arrived at the back of the car, he grabbed the tailgate’s swinging door handle, the one on the far right side that had to be grasped and turned. He said, “This handle reminds me of the handle on the door of an old-fashioned refrigerator.”
At that point, a memory sparked and I went into my 1960s television announcer voice: “Kids, don’t play inside old refrigerators. Grown-ups, take the doors off of refrigerators when you discard them!” I said, “That was a public service announcement [PSA] of my childhood.”
Liam said, “Yeah, I get it, that would be dangerous, all right. But it sounds like a pretty random PSA.”
When I was a wee lad I watched a live and local Atlanta kids’ TV show, The Popeye Club. It was on every single afternoon after school, hosted by the great – if unwitting – children’s entertainer, “Officer Don” Kennedy. Judging by the public service announcements they ran on that show, the two biggest dangers a child could face in this world were abandoned refrigerators and blasting caps. In those days, the FCC required a certain number of public service announcements per day, and apparently, those two PSAs were the only ones the TV station had at the ready for The Popeye Club. Or maybe our wise and boisterous Officer Don understood that the kind of kids who were fans of his show – the "gang" – were adventurous and feral children, more likely than most to happen upon abandoned refrigerators and blasting caps.
Blasting caps, of course, are small explosives used to set off dynamite, which every kid of my generation understood, instructed as we were by the mishaps of Wile E. Coyote in his attempts to push down the T-handled electrical generator connected to said blasting cap. We gleaned so much from cartoons.
I told Liam, “During my childhood, we were utterly convinced that the entire planet was strewn with old refrigerators and blasting caps.” (And we were diligently and eagerly on the lookout for the latter.)
Liam who had returned to wrenching away at the innards of the giant Buick said, “Ah… Uh-huh.” That’s the sound he utters when he wants me to know that the information I have bestowed upon him has been received and understood. But the subtext of that sound is, “Thank you, dear Father; you needn’t explain further.”
Yet, just because my son has a BA in philosophy from The University of Georgia doesn’t mean I can’t still broaden his education. I had a hankering to show him one of those public service announcements, so I pulled out my Swiss-Army-phone and spoke into it: “Siri: blasting caps.”
Siri responded, "Casting scraps," and there was a video of a farmer slopping hogs.
"No, no," I said. "Blasting caps PSA."
Siri responded “Lasting slaps USA,” thus began a video of the Three Stooges.
“Nope. Blasting. Cap.”
Siri responded with, “Asking Pat, “and showed me an interview with that old 1950s-60s singer who covered “Love Letters in the Sand.”
“No, No, NO! BLASTING CAP!” My phone played a video of Morris the finicky feline of “9 Lives” pet food fame, whose refusal to eat led him to a complete hunger strike.
[Gentle reader, I hope you can figure out that final punchline. But if you need a nudge, drop me a line.]
1930 - 2023
Andy Offutt Irwin is a storyteller, singer/songwriter, and humorist who lives in Covington, GA. He can be reached at email@example.com.