Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Circle Around The Square

Circle Around The Square
A Cold Weather Story
8.5" x 11"
It was a cold January in 1958. I was a senior in college and went home for a special weekend.
Daddy was going to buy me a new car for my graduation present. He had a nice Ford Galaxie all picked out, through one of his friends who had a car dealership.
I wanted no part of such an ordinary car. I wanted a '51 MGTD, all black. I had dated a guy who drove a car like that, except his MG was white. I thought that was the cutest little car that I ever saw and would surely attract a lot of attention. It would be so much fun to whiz along with my hair blowing and, at the same time, have everyone look to see that darling little car. Not to mention, that it was sure to attract a lot of boys who would like to take a look at the engine and take care of the car. And that would, hopefully, get me some dates- boys who would love to drive or work on my little car.
Daddy finally searched and found a used '51 MGTD and he, reluctantly, bought it for me. He was sure that I would change my mind and want that shiney, new, all black Galaxie. But I was convinced that I would only look good in an MG. Without the MG, I was sure I would be dateless and an old maid.
The MG that he found was a bit scuffed and worn, to say the least. But, I thought that I could just clean it up and it would be gorgeous!
Daddy spent the weekend showing me the things that were wrong with the car, and telling me that I should leave it at home until it was fixed. I should take his '57 Ford Ranch Wagon back to college, if I just had to have a car. He knew that I would need a car to do my student teaching in the spring, so it was time to get used to driving more and be responsible for a vehicle.
I was too excited over my first new car to leave it behind and drive a family oriented station wagon. So, off I went in my little car, on Sunday afternoon, anxious to show off my car to everyone, and to test it out on the boys that hung out near Campus Corner, the drugstore, checking out each others' sports cars.
"It's going to be alright, Baby," I told the car. "Once I get you figured out, you are going to be a dream to drive!"
I'm sure that my parents must have cringed as I drove away in that little car. It wasn't just the size, but the condition of the car, that made it dangerous. But, in those days, there wasn't a lot in the way of safety checks. No seat belts, no car inspections. Just buy your license and your car, and that was it, as long as you could make it run, some way or other.
My little car had a white body, black fenders, and a green interior. I was disappointed in the color, but, if that was all he could find that was running, I would have to be happy with it. I really wanted a solid black car, but this one was still cute.
It also had some serious problems.
The brakes didn't work all of the time. The way to stop the car was to gear it down until it was almost stopped, then hit something gently.
There was no gas gage. If I wanted to know how much gas I had, I got a yardstick out of the back and stuck it into the gas tank.
The leather seats were worn, but that wasn't too bad. Just didn't look so good.
The wooden interior was sort of, well, rotten. So, when I had the cloth top up, sometimes, if I hit a bump, the top slid down the wood and collapsed all over the interior.
The previous owners had cut into the wires and changed them around. So, when a button on the dash was pulled, I never knew what might happen. Lights might come on, or it could be the windshield wipers.
At night, sometimes, if I hit a bump, the lights might go out and I had to find another bump to hit and make the lights come back on.
There wasn't an actual heater, but there was a lot of heat from the engine coming up through the floorboard. Of course, it had no radio or air conditioner. But, then, not many cars had those luxuries then. There was plenty of fresh air and I could always sing if I wanted music.
I was as happy as I could be with my cute little car. Gearing down, and little races with other sports cars was kind of fun. I looked forward to things like road rallies and getting together with other sports car owners. And I was so proud of my graduation present.
I pulled up in the parking lot just outside the windows of my dorm room as I returned to campus that afternoon. I honked the horn and waved at my suitemates to come look at my graduation present. I took my things up to my room, and brought my friends down for a look at my car. I was grinning from ear to ear as we decided that we just had to try it out. Never mind that it was a two-seater. We would squeeze in four girls, one way or another!
It was cold, gray, drizzling a little when we jammed ourselves in the car. We were hoping it would snow. So, it was urgent that we get down the hill to town, circle around the square a few times, and get back up the hill in case the hill got icey and we couldn't make it back. I was driving, one suitemate sat in the other seat, one straddled the middle of the two seats over the emergency brake, and another smaller friend sat on the shelf in the back over the batteries. (Yes, it had two batteries. And also dual carborators.)
Of course, despite the weather, we had to have the top down to show off our convertable. Besides, the person in the middle would have either had to bend over or their head would have gone through the canvas, if we had the top up.
We laughed and giggled at all the little quirks of the car and the way that we were riding. Finally, after almost 4 years there, we had "wheels"! We were almost free and almost grown, or so we thought.
We made it to the square where the courthouse was located, surrounded by stores, restaurants, and movies. There weren't many people out, but, since it was a Sunday, with students returning from the weekend, there were a few people out to eat, going in to the movies, and some students in cars. We were the only ones circling the square that cold day, though.
We were almost hysterical with laughter as we tightend our headscarves against the cold air, and sang, at the top of our lungs, such hits as "We Wear Short Shorts". Tears ran down our faces from laughing. Even the term, "circle around the square" brought hysterical laughter.
"We had better get back to the dorm. It's getting really cold and looks like it's going to rain." Someone became more serious.
One more time around the square to wave at a couple of carloads of boys, and we headed back up the hill.
We fixed the top and side curtains on the MG and went in the dorm, exhausted from laughing.
As I looked out of my windows, admiring my little MG in the parking lot, another small car drove into the parking lot. I was stunned, and watched to see who might be driving this car. I pressed my face to the window to see the car better. It was the car I really wanted. A solid black MGTD, with a little red in the interior. I didn't care about the red, but this was as close to solid black as you could probably get. This one was shiney and like new.
My excitement for my graduation present was greatly subdued when I saw that car. The figure that came out of the car was dressed in black and had a heavy black knit scarf draped over her black hair. I really liked the girl, so I was excited that she had a great car for her graduation present. But I was kind of sick at my stomach to think of how bad my car was compared to this one that she had brought back from the big city. I still didn't want the Ford, though, or even a later model MG.
My joy was dimmed, but, I thought that mine was a fun car, and we could get out and work on it along with the guys at Campus Corner. They would probably love to work on it and improve it. If we just kept our two cars apart, maybe mine wouldn't looks so bad. I have to admit, though, that it was kind of neat to see those two square-bodied MGs parked together at our dorm. There weren't any more of those around. The boy whose car I first admired had moved on to another college or into the service the semester after I dated him. I never did know. He was cute, but his car was most attractive, I thought.
The following day after our ride in the cold, one suitemate had to go to the clinic and was really sick after our adventure around the square. Another one had a cold. That put another damper on our fun. I sat at my desk in my room, looking down at the parking lot at the two MGs parked side by side, glistening in the rain.
Daringly, that semester, I bleached my hair, as much as I dared , with peroxide, to look better with my car, and even used a little mascara on my eyebrows and eyelashes (but only when I was away from home). Young ladies only wore "natural" lipstick for every day, and "red" lipstick for Sunday and dress up, in those days. Any more than that, and you were looked upon as a loose woman.
In the spring, when I went to do my student teaching, I drove my MG most of the time. I liked to cruise around in my car and find others with sports cars or who were into racing.
In the mornings, as I was going to school, I would often encounter a man who had a new MGA, a white, probably '57, model. He was the weather man on the new tv station. As we sat at red lights, there was the inevitable "Wanna drag?", and we would race our engines, then speed off. That put me in a good mood for the day.
One day, when I drove into the teachers parking area for the afternoon session, a group of boys ran out and pushed me all the way back to the street, as I was trying to drive forward. The only reason they stopped was when the bell rang to go to class and a big, male teacher came out and made them go back in the building. I didn't want to go back to that school, or any other, anymore. I made sure that I was in the same places as the rest of the teachers, and didn't get caught by myself again.
When I went away to teach, my dad made me take the Ranch Wagon, a dependable car and one that looked more like a teacher. He worried about hurricanes on the Gulf Coast, too, and wanted to be sure that I could get out of there, if needed. With my first check, my dad insisted that we go look at new cars. Again, he wanted me to get a Galaxie. I wanted an MG. We found a sports car business near home, and we went to look at cars. He sold my MG, so I had to get a new car. That was the only car that he ever got rid of.
Selecting a new car is another story.
It's hard to believe that this happened 50 years ago. I guess the cold, gray weather we are having reminded me of the day that we circled around the square in my MG the first time.
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