I was four the first time I rode across the country, from Menlo Park to Cambridge, sharing the back of the 1950 Studebaker with my older brother, Tom, and Mab, the 75 pound Airedale. Mab sometimes stretched across the back seat, pushing us onto the floor, but I digress, partly because I want the reader to know that I actually remember that trip. I also remember the aneurism in the tire, in Utah, and my fear as we approached the Holland tunnel, which my father had explained went under water, and my amazement as we sped dry through that marvel.
Other automotive firsts…
The first car I drove was the ’57 Chevy 210 wagon, when I was seven; the first I drove legally, the 1965 Peugeot 404 station wagon. A year later, I drove cross-country, Cape Cod to Palo Alto, in my first car, an eight year old 1962 Falcon. But I’d long forgotten the make of the car in which I’d taken my first ride, from Mt. Auburn Hospital, in Cambridge, to 44 Westlund Road, in Belmont, three miles, according to Google Maps. Charlie Batterman, a family friend across the street, had chauffeured my mother and me. (My father, fearing the baby’s arrival might unsettle my older brother, had stayed home with him, but my brother nonetheless acquired a loud noise phobia on that Independence Day, 1953.)
I hadn’t seen the Battermans since the late Kennedy or early Johnson Administrations until last weekend, when Nora Batterman (now Campbell), my brother’s age mate, called out to me from the meat counter at the Whole Foods in Cambridge. As we began catching up, I was keeping my curiosity about the Battermans’ old car in check, but Nora launched into that story unbidden. “When you were nine or ten,” she said to me, her eyes aglow, “my father had said to you, ‘did you know I drove you and your mother home from the hospital?’” That news had prompted the obvious question from me: “What kind of a car was it?”
Now I was thrilled to be reminded so unexpectedly of the make, but back then I’d been a rabid partisan of the One True Car Company, and so when her father had told me I’d taken my first ride in a Ford, “you had looked absolutely crestfallen,” Nora said. “And then you had said, “I’d hoped it was a General Motors product.”
Then Nora informed me that I had occupied a special place in Batterman family lore for nearly half a century. Even Nora’s daughter, Amy, 17, smiled as she listened to that story for probably the umpteenth time. Charlie had been especially amused by the phrase, “General Motors product.”
After hearing the story, I pushed my luck. “Do you know what year the Ford was?” I asked. I didn’t expect to find out. Many people I know don’t even know the makes of their childhood cars. Most don’t know the year. But Nora remembered this, too. Let the record show that I took my first ride in a 1949 Ford.