Unlike the pain and anguish of past breakups, however, my mother and Frank Simmons remained friends—distant friends. Occasionally he would phone her from somewhere and they would talk. Later on, I learned it had been Frank who arranged for my mother to dazzle me with an astonishing graduation gift—beyond all expectations—the kind of gift most seventeen-or- eighteen-year-olds in 1939 could only dream about.
I became the proud, head-whirling owner of a nine- year-old 1931 Model A sports coupe. Closing my eyes now, I can still see it—a forest green beauty with black fenders, romantic rumble seat, green pinstripe interior, wire spoke wheels, running board step plates, rear wheel mudguards and side-mounted spare tire.
When my dear mother hugged me and handed me the keys that memorable afternoon, I was taken aback, overwhelmed. I think I stammered out my heartfelt thanks in a kind of grateful daze. Eventually, I jammed a tweed cap on my head, climbed in behind the four-spoke steering wheel, squinted fearlessly off into the distance, and let my day dreams soar. Who was I? The great Rudi Caracciola in the final kilometer at Le Mans Grand Prix? Or, the Great Gatsby, running late for an afternoon rendezvous with Daisy?
That tough little Ford, with its reliable, 200-cubic inch, four-cylinder engine, had traveled almost 100,000 miles. Overhauled to the hilt, it was raring to go again.
By the time I sold it three years later, I’d put thousands of miles more on it and racked up an array of untold memories.
Once, hell-bent on my way to the Oregon coast with a buddy named Saul Barde, I recklessly pushed the old Model A up to almost 75 miles an hour on a wild stretch of pitted surface that cut through the charred hills of the Tillamook burn. Logging trucks ruled on that tortuous two-lane road. Rounding a turn, I faced a loaded logger, roaring down on us head-on, He blasted his horn. I swerved sharply, nicked a rear fender and spun around on the shoulder, headed the wrong way, We survived. But we sat there quietly for a few minutes, sweating.
On afternoons when dusk drizzled perpetually over the Willamette, I sometimes explored the back roads of the Cascade foothills by myself. All alone. The valley and the hills were always green. Wondrously so.