A sharp and joyfully fast driver was my dear mother, whose memory I honor on this Mother’s Day. Not only did she teach me from a young age to be sharp, aware and quick behind the wheel, by example and direct training, but she had an eye for explosive and practical driving, and her choice of vehicles taught me a lot about different types of car vehicles.
She got her first Indiana driver’s license at age 14 and delivered flowers after school for Ed, my florist grandfather, in the 1938 Buick sedan you see here.
I’ve never met a human – three of my grandparents died long before I was born, and I’ve only met the fourth once. But this Buick appeared in my imagination as a little boy, obsessed with all things automotive.
After moving to Jackson Heights, Queens, Mom appeared on a quiz show and won a Vespa scooter, which she used to commute to work in Wenner Gren Foundation to the Upper East Side of Manhattan and back five days a week.
“You can park your car on the street right next to the main central station,” she said. “No one would mind that.” You can also walk freely along Central Park day or night.
When our family of five moved to Yorktown Heights, my parents shared this 1960 Hillman Wagon, which they drove until it died and was donated to us kids, who took it apart and put it back together several times and ended up breaking every one of them. windows with stones, after which he was dragged away without comment.
The first car she bought with her own money while working as an editor at Reader’s Digest in Pleasantville, NY was a 1974 Duster 340. You might as well have driven Led Zeppelin down our driveway. We kids were totally freaked out by this loud, cruel, big beast.
My dad, who drove a B17, didn’t care for cars – and you can’t blame him after 36 missions around Europe – but Beansie was a die-hard car nut who needed to do something on impulse, to buy something that really didn’t make sense for a middle-aged office worker in a quiet, remote suburb. You drive an orange car to get attention, and she sure got it.
But the 340 ended up having a few mechanical issues and only getting 11 miles to the gallon when it was in shape, so she sold it back to our neighbor and went in a completely different direction, buying a 1976 AMC Gremlin.
It’s hard to imagine in 2023, but AMC’s cars back then caused as much of a stir as any hot new ride coming out today. They were simple and cheap and fun to drive – I already had a license at the time so I could legally get behind the wheel in the presence of a licensed adult – and there was plenty of room in the front. It did what you asked it to do, was unobtrusive and pleasant, and got a more reasonable 17 MPG, highway.
One of her sons – maybe it was me – took down that Gremlin and ended up working every weekend washing dishes at an Italian restaurant to pay back her deduction.
Soon, a small Toyota Tercel appeared in our driveway, which was actually, finally, the right car for the right person. My mother was only 5 feet tall and 100 pounds, and the Tercel was also compact, to that extent, and while it wasn’t pretty, it didn’t look ridiculous like the Gremlin.
Shortly after that, I moved out of the house to New York City and Beansie’s cars stopped being remarkable – her last carriage was a Camry. It was time to give in; her career, her wheels and her life.
I became an auto journalist and, on many weekends, I would visit my mother in the suburbs, driving her to her weekend sticker sales and we would talk about Freud, Buddhism, family and the state of the world.
Our days dwindled to a precious few, as they must eventually. I began to set up my tripod and capture our time together, knowing that one day in the future, after she left this life, these photographs would briefly bring my mother back to me.
Forbes – Lifestyle