Saturday, July 31, 2010

French Lessons

Sometimes the best ideas can come out of random conversation. Take today, for instance. My coworker and I were discussing the merits of driving a Buick (neither of us actually drive one, but we agree that they are very smooth rides). This led to stories of past family cars, general dislikes of station wagons and minivans and the clunkers our fathers have driven.

As I have previously stated, my father is a former accountant. For those of you who don’t know what this really means, here is the translation: he is really cheap. My raspberry picker story is just one case in point. In what would possibly be lauded as a “green” move, my family was a one-car household throughout my youth. As my mother was a stay-at-home mom with errands to run and kids to haul with her, my father left the car at home and took his bike to work everyday. I have fond memories of my dad coming home from work in his business suit and taking the rainbow colored trouser strap off his leg (to prevent it from getting caught in the bike gears).

While we lived in a small town, this lifestyle was not too difficult to maintain. However, in 1987, with their third child looming, my parents made the big decision to upgrade to a second car. In 1987 I was still too young to have a real sense of what was “cool” when it came to cars, but anything new was worthy of celebration in my mind.

Here is how it all played out. At that point in time, my father was working at the local medical clinic as the director of finance, and one of the doctors was selling his car. So, for $400, my father acquired a Renault Le Car (I am uncertain of the vintage year). It is a car not often seen in these parts, then or now. Perhaps the French do not like to export their cars to Americans. Anyway, the car itself was a hatchback, but these were not the coolest features to my 7 year-old mind. The two things that attracted my interest were the “sun roof” and the cassette deck.

I have used quotation marks for the “sun roof” because I’m not entirely certain it is the correct title. Essentially, it was a manual escape hatch. It was composed of some sort of tarp/plastic hybrid that had to be opened by hand and physically pushed up and backwards over the top of the car. There was no setting for in-between, it was all or nothing.

The cassette deck was not actually that amazing, but it was the first vehicle in our household to boast one as a feature. Not that I had any cassette tapes to play, but the mere thought that I could control the music of the car held infinite promise and power in my young mind. For your viewing pleasure, here is a picture of the car next to my mom around the time we purchased it:

This car has technically remained in my family to this day, although it is not currently in active duty. Here follows a brief synopsis. We obtained this car shortly before we moved to a new town. I believe we kept the car for at least another year or so before my father sold it to my uncle or grandpa on the farm. From that point onward, I saw very little of the Le Car (I realize it is improper French to say it this way, as it translates to “the the car,” but this is how we referred to it then and now). I have heard tales of my grandpa driving it to the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport to pick up another one of my uncles at some point in the late 80’s/early 90’s. Therefore, I know for sure that it was capable of driving over 100 miles in one day. After my uncle on the farm met his future wife, the Le Car truly passed out of all knowledge for me. Sort of like the one ring in Lord of the Rings. It waited for its master’s call.

A couple of years ago, during a visit to my uncle’s farm, my father and I decided to explore some of the old buildings with my young cousins. I felt like Indiana Jones, off in search of undiscovered treasure. After looking in a few places, we came to an unused barn/granary at the front of the property. My father grabbed the handle of the door and it swung open. The only item inside was the long-lost Renault, under about 5 inches of dirt and hay dust. It was like discovering the Holy Grail.

I would love to say that we pulled the Le Car out of its drafty tomb and rebuilt the engine to make it a functional part of society. Sadly, we left it where it was and closed the door. I believe it is still in the same place at this moment. Even though it is not in use, it is very likely that it is presently one of the only cars of its kind in MN. By “of its kind,” I mean Renault Le Cars. I do not mean gray hatchback old model cars that do not work and are currently sitting in barns. I’m pretty sure there are plenty of those to be found. Who knows, it has perhaps become a home to a family of rodents or other critters that will get more use out of it than my family ever did.

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