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Bessie...The Little Rambler That Could

Updated on July 22, 2020


I was honored to participate in Jackie Lynnley’s fun challenge to write about winter memories.

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Somewhat similar in design.  'Bessie' was solid black.
Somewhat similar in design. 'Bessie' was solid black. | Source

“The Lord protects drunkards and fools.” We’ve all heard that beautiful adage, haven't we? Personally, I can’t attest to its accuracy although I suspect He takes pity on us at times, such as the incident that took place during the winter of my 17th year.

I was a senior in high school and had been saving money from babysitting and other odd jobs to buy my first car. That winter, Dad offered to chip in, financially, as long as he had a say in the make and model.

I soon learned that parents could be a little cagey when it came to their teenage daughter’s first car and “having a say.” It was important to listen to the fine print when negotiating. You see, I had my heart set on a used, perky little Toyota Corolla with a sexy floor shift. That heart sank like a stone when I returned home from school one afternoon to find an ancient black Rambler sedan sitting in the driveway.

The best way to describe the car’s clunky design is that it looked as though someone had taken a buzz saw and sliced off the back-end of an aged hearse. Did I mention old? Think Jurassic. Aside from the funeral-black exterior, it had a push-button transmission and thick, heavy doors. My folks were adamant about me not driving a "tinny compact model" which one could repair a large dent in the body with a toilet plunger.

I was torn between my disappointment over not having a say in the purchase and my gratitude to Dad for buying the car. “Save your money," he said. Despite the usual generation gaps (canyons, actually), I adored my folks and didn’t want to hurt their feelings.

Of course, my father loved the Rambler. “That is a classic,” he remarked, proudly.

“Uh huh...what’s a classic, Dad?” I asked, fairly certain the words, “ugly relic,” would apply to any car in that category. Mum quickly reminded me that the Rambler’s most important quality was its dependability – one of her favorite words. I had my own priorities, such as making sure the FM radio and speakers worked. As long as the thing moved, I figured I’d be okay with it. After all, my favorite word at the time was independence.

The push-button trans proved somewhat challenging at first. We lived atop the eastern ridge of the Kittatinny Mountains in Hunterdon County, New Jersey. (I’d learned to drive using a stick shift…especially helpful on those snaking, narrow roads.) The day after her arrival, I left Bessie -- my nickname for the old crate – “parked” at the top of the drive next to the house. The s-shaped driveway was positioned on a slight grade. While our backs were turned, Bessie rambled down the drive and across the grass before becoming mired in the thick brush bordering the lawn. Fortunately, she had the grace to miss Dad’s above-ground, gas storage tank by about a foot. One of Mum’s prized forsythia bushes flanking the container wasn't as lucky.

The towing company arrived and pulled the Rambler from the brush, unharmed. After a stern lecture on the use of the neutral vs. park buttons, my parents instructed me to keep the car on a level parking space at the north side of the house where I would cause the least amount of damage. An elevated rock garden abutted the space, thus discouraging Bessie from any further excursions.

Source

My friends were pretty cool about the car, aside from a few teasers such as “The Black Box,” and “Granny does NASCAR.” But the occasional smirks, stifled grins or looks of sympathy from onlookers when I paused at a traffic light or stop sign were a little annoying. That’s not to say I wasn’t afforded some comeuppance whenever it snowed. I tried not to smile as the sleek, more contemporary models stalled or fish-tailed about like bumper cars at a winter carnival. Bessie always chugged up and down those icy roads without so much as a hiccup. She was 'The Little Rambler That Could.'

One Saturday afternoon my friend, Danny, invited me to his house. I hadn’t driven there before and followed his directions that led me up a steep mountain road. By dinner time, it was dark and had begun to snow. As I prepared to leave, my friend insisted I wait until his father returned later that evening so they could follow me until I safely reached the main road. Danny’s car was out of commission, perched on cinder blocks in their garage.

I declined, foolishly thinking I could drive anywhere in the snow due to my vast experience. Smug as a Cheshire cat, I slid into my black box, punched the gear into low and began to inch my way down the mountainside road. Before long, I began to feel the effects of snow hypnosis and endless pitch-dark. Suddenly, I felt my body list to the right as Bessie -- in a surreal movement of slow motion -- tilted to a stop, then stalled. With instincts grabbing hold, I quickly turned off the ignition. Because of the odd angle of the car, I had to lie on my back and push the weighty door open with my feet before stumbling into the snow-stinging night air. It took several clumsy steps upward to reach the road. Luckily, I could still see the lights from the house. I walked back to the dwelling where Danny greeted me with concern, hot coffee, a warm blanket and a phone.

A half-hour passed before a tow truck arrived, once again, to rescue the car that had rescued me. Danny and I watched as the operator pulled the Rambler from its awkward resting place.

“You are one lucky young lady,” the driver said, grimly. “If you had to go off the road, this was the perfect spot.”

He was right. I didn't realize it at the time due to the darkness, but I had wandered onto a slim shoulder situated at a lower level to the road. Beyond the shoulder were a small thicket and a bowed tree at the edge of a craggy drop into a ravine. Amazingly, the Rambler had barely a scratch and started up immediately, her engine purring a deep throaty sound.

Danny let out a low whistle of admiration. “Wow…they sure don’t make ‘em like that anymore.”

“I know,” I replied, smiling fondly at Bessie. “She’s a classic.”


A drive in winter...


Bessie was to carry me over many roads that winter of my 17th year. It was a time of self-discovery, of exploration and independence, and gratitude for my parents whose love and understanding helped to make that journey possible.


The edge of seventeen...


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Story written and copyrighted by Genna Eastman (Genna East) 2014. All rights reserved. Videos: “Aniron” was composed and performed by Enya. Lyrics by Roma Ryan; video created by Starfishrider of YouTube. “Edge of Seventeen” by Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac; video created by J Colunga of YouTube.


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