The '54 Chevy Belair and Christmas


Some memories never fade...


When we get in our cars, there are a lot of things we take for granted. Seat belts, padded interiors, and electronic windows just to name a few. But, it wasn’t always like that; not even in my lifetime. The first car I ever remember riding in was my mom’s 1954 Chevrolet Belair, and it was nothing like that. It was exactly like the one pictured above, except with four doors, and not nearly as clean.

The Belair was indeed two toned, orange and white, and reeking of the 50’s. The model came right in the middle of the transition from the round cars of the 40’s to the more sleek designs of the 60’s, and was designed more for looks than for safety, if you can believe that. I suppose a person could buy a model with safety features, or have them installed aftermarket, but, as was usually the case back then, safety wasn’t something people thought much about. Our Belair had a “steel” dashboard, no seat belts, (not even lap belts), and the windows had to be cranked up and down by hand. Now that I think about it, our Belair did have one safety feature. Mom had taken the car up to the Texaco station on Federal Boulevard near what is now Invesco Field at Mile High to have the handles that open the back doors removed. They were replaced with chrome, dome-shaped covers so we kids would not open those doors from the inside.

I even remember that Texaco station. I do not remember the guy’s name, (Chuck?), but, every time we pulled in there, he took great pleasure in asking us kids, “What’s cooking?” We were supposed to respond, “Chicken!” What fun, huh? Even at that early age, I could smell the creep all over this guy. Mom was pretty back then, and I suppose he thought he could get a little, but I imagine mom was just using her youthful charms to get a better deal on the price. I don’t remember going in there often, (I guess mom knew a creep when she saw one, too), but, whenever the car needed work, that’s where she took it.

In the Projects, that ’54 Chevy was special. We didn’t have much money, but mom was usually able to afford enough money to buy a few gallons of gas to take us to the mountains, to Sloan ‘s Lake, or just for a drive in the country. When your whole world is pretty much the square block area of the city where you live, anything that can take you to wonderful places to see wonderful things is pretty special. Don’t get the idea that we ever took any road trips in this car, because we didn’t. We did, however, take a few day trips, and memories of those trips and that car will always be a cherished part of my childhood.

I do not know why this one memory stands out from the others, but I distinctly remember being six or seven years old and standing outside our garage behind the house on Dexter in East Denver on Christmas Eve. It was our first Christmas in East Denver, and probably the last Christmas we owned that vehicle, but, as we were parking the Chevy in the garage on that magic night, I remember looking up into a clear, cold, dark December sky with wonder in my eyes and thinking, “Santa will be coming soon.” I really believed the jolly old elf was on his way to our house. That probably doesn’t mean much to you, but, when I was still young enough to believe in Santa, I was always swept away by the spirit of the holiday season.

I remember never being able to sleep on Christmas Eve, and, yet, never hearing my mom get out all of the presents from Santa to be placed under the tree. We knew Santa left the gifts because he always ate the milk and cookies we left out. Long after I learned it was mom helping Santa with deliveries, she kept it up, and never allowed herself to be discovered. Even though we were poor, mom was good at doing holidays. We never had what other kids had, but we always had enough, and we always woke up to gifts on Christmas morning. Each one of us kids also had our own, special Christmas stocking with our name on it that we used over and over each December, and each year we would find ours under the tree stuffed with one, huge orange and one, huge apple in the toe. The rest of the stocking would be filled with nuts, candies, and special, little presents like decks of cards and such. The stocking was one of mom’s specialties and it really helped to prolong the joy on Christmas morning.

The old ’54 would later need work mom could not afford to fix, so she sold it to a mechanic. I really hated to see that car go, but it was not my decision to make. That sale did, however, mark the second time in my life that I had to say goodbye to a piece of my past in order to move into a new, better future. Thus, that car will also always be linked to my life and my youth. I have never seen another orange and white one, but I have seen quite a few in other colors throughout my life, (at least four at the Chevy museum in Nebraska). Every time I do, I am instantly jetted back to the early 60’s as if by a time machine, and I find that, even before the smile finishes engulfing my face, I can feel every memory of that car racing through my body. Then, just for a moment, I am that young boy again staring at the night sky on Christmas Eve, and I know Santa is real.


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