The human memory is an amazing thing. It really is if you think about it. They say that every thought, every experience, every scent, every feeling is stored away neatly in that abyss we affectionally call “gray matter”. It’s all just a matter of accessing what we’ve tucked neatly away; it’s all categorized, indexed and stored, waiting for something to trigger it’s retrieval so that we can relive a fleeting moment, recall a past experience or tell an ancedote to party guests.
For me, there’s a certain era of pop music that triggers some very happy memories from my childhood. One of the songs of the era is “One Of These Nights” by the Eagles. Not only was I fascinated by the backing vocals of the song, but it seems we always heard it on the AM radio that would play away in the family car.
The year was 1975. It was fall and after the change back to standard time but still early enough in the season that it wasn’t terribly cold outside for a Sunday night in Upstate New York. The four of us, my mom and dad and my sister and I had piled into my dad’s ’71 Heavy Chevy in the driveway of 233 Ridge Ave., the home of my maternal grandparents. Notice I said “my dad’s” ’71 Heavy Chevy. Even though it was the family car it really was his car, a proud symbol of a hard working man in his late 20s, having already been married almost 10 years with two young kids in tow. My mom couldn’t even drive the car as she couldn’t drive a stick (though she did conquer it a year or so later). We drove through the suburban streets of Syracuse, aimed for I-81 north and started the 45 minute journey home. As sort of an established family rule I sat behind my mom, Jennifer was situated behind dad. Not a lot was spoken but we all seemed very content. Like so many Sunday night drives of the same route before, we followed Route 81 with 62 WHEN playing on the radio as I watched the lights of jets landing at Hancock Airport.
About half way home as we crossed the “Brewerton Bridge” I would get a little antsy, the lights of the jets long forgotten and the straight section of 81 near Cicero, framed by powerlines, left behind as we rolled along the concrete highway. For some reason those powerlines fascinated me. I amused myself by making hand gestures in the darkness of the backseat, oddly giddy with the fact that I couldn’t see the gestures I was making because it was so dark. Darkness fascinated me. Dad would turn on the highbeams and the blue “BRIGHTS” light would illuminate on the dash. Mom would cough a little bit, a by-product of the whooping cough she had as a child. Jenn and I would play a now forgotten game and giggle a little. It’s funny but I don’t remember fighting a lot with my sister. I would roll down the back window just an inch or two and smell the autumn air. I thought I was being so clever, rolling down the window and not ever asking permission. It was like nobody even noticed. They’d never know if I just rolled the window a little bit for fresh air.
For some reason I can recall those trips as if they were yesterday. Jennifer would fall asleep around the Parish exit, just as dad lit his one cigarette for the trip home. Mom would cough a little as dad cracked his window open just a bit to let the smoke out.
As I think back on those trips I remember being so happy. Not that I’m unhappy today; quite the contrary. But I can look back at myself at that time and see so many beginnings of what I am today. I’m still amused by rides in the dark. I always turn the dashlights down very low so that I can make gestures in the dark. I’m fascinated by the powerlines that still stand along I-81 near Cicero. I watch jets land at Syracuse Airport. I play little games in the car with Earl.
And “One Of These Nights” plays on the radio.
This is the one picture I could find of dad’s Heavy Chevy when it was still intact. (That’s me in the white hat doing the odd pose). The Heavy Chevy left our family on February 22, 1978 when Mom, Jennifer and I were driving home from grandma and grandpa’s. A truck that was over clearance regulations had wedged itself under a bridge near I-81 milepost 109. It was snowing. We were stopped, the second to last vehicle in a line of traffic waiting for the truck to be moved so traffic could pass under the bridge. Being on a curve and a downhill, a tractor trailer came around the corner and unaware of the traffic snarl, backended the line of cars. About five minutes prior to the accident, Mom had asked me to move from the center of the back seat over to the passenger side. When I did, I had put on my seatbelt. Had I not moved, I would have been seriously injured as the tractor trailer and Pinto behind us rammed into the back of the car, folding the roof like a sardine can. My sister hit the windshield. My mother had a huge cut across her head where the roof had folded up and hit her. I was rammed into the front seat. We all survived. But the Heavy Chevy didn’t, it was done.
Dad opted for a new ’78 Impala Sport Coupe after the Heavy Chevy. It had a 350 in it, it was two door and it was a great car. New memories were made in the Impala, gestures were made in the dark and Jenn fell asleep near the Parish exit.
And “One Of These Nights” played on 62 WHEN.