Friday, June 22, 2012

Remembering "The Machine"

A few years ago I attended an open-air antique car rally in our town. It was held on a on a blazingly hot and humid July day.  Among the interesting vehicles parked for display was a black 1941 Ford pickup truck.  The windows were open so I stuck my head inside the cab to get a closer look. The smell of that interior immediately brought me back to riding in my grandfather’s cars as a child in the late 1950s/early 1960s. My mother’s father, Eugene Mondou, had a small poultry farm on Dalton St. in the community of Acushnet, near New Bedford, MA.  My family lived in the Philadelphia area at the time and I was able to spend several summers with my grandparents in Acushnet between the ages of about 9 to 13.

My grandfather’s car (he owned only one at a time and my grandmother did not drive) was usually parked in a two-bay detached garage. I suspect that he and his sons (probably with the help of friends) built that garage, as they had also built the colony of chicken coops clustered around the property. The garage had big swinging gray wooden doors and a dirt floor. The interior walls were exposed framing and siding, and I think coasted with a creosote-like substance, which on a hot August day would emit a faint petroleum odor even many years after being applied. Also stored in this oversized garage were paints and oils and plenty of equipment like lawn mowers – all adding to the unique garage aroma, or “bouquet.” Plus, my grandfather used a liberal amount of kerosene around his little farm. He would pour a generous amount around his house foundation to keep ants and other bugs out.  The recollection of that house returns when I smell the odor of kerosene.

The car.  My grandfather always had modest cars, a Plymouth or Ford maybe, always a stick shift if I recall accurately. No frills for this frugal French Canadian former textile mill worker and one-time amateur boxer. And he always referred to his car as “the machine.”  “Come on Dennis, let’s take the machine and go see a guy about chicken mash (feed).”  So I’d climb into the machine with its characteristic smell and take a short drive with him across town with the summer afternoon sun blazing away and baking us through the windshield. A near-perfect summer event for an 11 year old boy with no job or school worries.

I suppose his cars would have naturally picked up the odor of the garage. Very few cars had air conditioning in those days (none in my extended family except Uncle Chuck from FL on my father’s side - his brother-in-law).  So the windows of my grandfather’s car were probably open most of the summer – even when parked in the garage. There were broad cloth seats and door trim to soak up those odors – not unpleasant – just distinctive. And apparently – quite memorable.

1 comment:

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Huh. Similar to my grandfather's place. Egg farmer from Nova Scotia relocated to W3estford, MA, detached garage much as you describe.

But I didn't like it. Perhaps if I had gone for summers instead of 1-2 weeks per year - and if his second wive hadn't been such a dingbat - I would have liked it more.