That winter the Plymouth Valiant supplanted the boat-like wagon we’d always used for the ride to Mass. The reasons were unclear. Maybe it got better mileage. Maybe my parents were reliving their heedless, childless, sedan-driving days.
Together we totaled six—father and mother around forty years old, four boys under twelve. This and the Valiant’s utilitarian layout dictated the seating: three up front, three in back, and none in seatbelts, never mind the nine miles of winding country road to Our Lady of the Mountain. Huge trees lurked all along the route, scarred trunks evidence of the hits they’d leveled on the inattentive. Nailed to one was a shattered reflective panel, the broken pieces evoking a smashed windshield frozen in its frame.
The Valiant was the color of weak coffee cut with skim milk and delivered weak performance too. My father cursed its handling in curves but it did no better on straightaways or gentle downward-sloping hills. It reserved its worst for climbs, and there were several on the way to Our Lady. Then it would chug and grumble in the parking lot long after the ignition was turned off, as if complaining about what it had been put through.
But all of this came only after the family had gotten out of the house. No small challenge given our numbers and needs: bathroom, breakfast, brushing teeth, getting dressed. There was also the growing...