Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce… Mary Lou.
It's not the best picture of her, and I suspect it's not even her good side. She was a 1960 Ford Falcon. If Ford hadn't begun making the Falcon in 1960, I might think she had shaved a couple of years off her age – what woman doesn't?
This is a picture of a brand new '60 Falcon:
Mary Lou's rear end looks a little rounder than this, but I guess all of our rears get a little rounder as we get older. (A side note: I nearly made Peri's car look like Mary Lou in Freezer Burn, but I thought it might attract a little more attention than a light blue Honda sedan, for surveillance purposes.)
My great grandfather, John Wetherholt, bought her from a lady at church named Mary Lou Duncan. He referred to the car so often as "Mary Lou's car" that it wasn't long before the car was just, "Mary Lou." When he died, Mary Lou went to his son, my grandfather, Hansel. He drove Mary Lou back and forth to his job at the A.E. Staley Manufacturing Company; that way he didn't have to wash his Cadillac as often.
But Mary Lou did more than just get Grandpa to the factory and back. Winters in Decatur, Illinois can be harsh, and practically no one in our neighborhood had a garage. Grandpa would get up a couple of times during the icy nights to warm Mary Lou's engine; he would then go through the neighborhood in the morning to jump start everyone's cars. I guess you could call Mary Lou the nurturing type.
When Grandpa retired and I needed wheels, Mary Lou came to me. By that time, she had accumulated some quirks. She had one spring left in the bench seat, in the middle, which meant I had to prop a pillow behind my back to even see through the steering wheel. The driver's side window would fall out of the frame if you slammed the door too hard, but Grandpa made a tool out of a coat hanger to fix it. The heater no longer worked, nor did the gas gauge. I bundled up in the winters, but the gas gauge might have been useful.
I only miscalculated my miles twice. The first time I ran out of gas, there was a police car behind me. He rolled his eyes when I explained my predicament, but he pushed Mary Lou into the gas station across the street without giving me a ticket. The second time, I got stuck on the Staley overpass, which was more of a problem.
A.E. Staley's is a corn and soybean processing factory in town, and there is a two-lane overpass that goes over the middle of it. There's always a lot of smoke coming up as you drive over, and it either smells like French fries or old socks, depending on the day. When I read the Lord of the Rings trilogy, I knew what Mordor looked like.
Getting stuck in the middle of that was unpleasant, but an older man stopped and helped me because, he said, he wouldn't want his daughter to be in that situation.
At least the radio worked.
I kept Mary Lou for a couple of years, until I saved enough money to purchase my own car. Before I gave her back to my grandpa, I cleaned her up, or at least thought I did. In those days, I had a habit of forgetting to put tampons in my purse, so I always stuck one of those little ten-packs of Tampax in the glove compartment. I got a phone call later that day, from my grandmother.
"I know her name is Mary Lou," she said. "But I didn't know she was really a girl!"
Next: Me and my Midget. (Then we'll have a pop-quiz and you'll have to tell me about the cars you've loved and lost and hit things with.)