Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Mama’s Red Convertible

My dad, Tom Coffey, had a terrible time finding gifts that my mother, his wife, Zelma, liked.

When I still attended Alma's high school, Dad cut a deal and drove a brand new bright red Chevy convertible into our driveway for Mama.

My eyes widened, but Mama's did not. She took the car for a spin—with its top up. When she returned, she announced, "I can't stand the way people stare at me. What must they think that someone like me would drive a car like that."

Mama hated the Chevy, but I—now sixteen with a driver's license—loved it. Slowly it became mine.

I drove it up and down Main Street, rubbernecking.

I cruised on back roads trying to drive over hills like Dad did, so fast my stomach dropped on the other side.

And I played chicken.

Bub, a high school buddy, challenged me to the sport. He selected a long stretch of gravel road. We placed our cars at either end. Then we drove straight at each other. The first to swerve became a chicken.

Initially I veered so widely it embarrassed me to be such a coward. The second time I drove closer, but not by much. The third time I heard the uncomfortable crunch of metal.

I spun home, cooking up a plan. In our driveway, I grabbed the hose and washed the car. As I figured, Mama came out to check on me.

"Look at this, Mom." I pointed at the fender. "Must have gotten a parking lot scratch somewhere."

She looked but said nothing. I rejoiced.

Many years later after the little red Chevy had become history, my dad still tried to give Mama a gift that she'd like.

They stopped at an outdoor flea market in Arizona where Dad came running back hollering "Pete! Pete!" (He never called her Zelma.) "I've found the perfect gift for you." He took her to a large table filled with turquoise jewelry of all kinds. "I know you're going to love this because you're going to pick it out. Whatever you want."

She chose a stunning necklace featuring nine raw chunks of turquoise with the largest in the middle. He proved right. She loved it.

Quite a few years later I sat by her hospital bed. She turned to me. "Is there anything of mine that you would particularly like to have."

"Your turquoise necklace."

She told me where she kept it, and I slipped those huge turquoise hunks around my neck for her funeral.

I still love wearing it. Almost as much as I adored driving her red convertible.

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