My favorite car was my very first, a 1965 Chevy Nova and aqua blue, known also as a Chevy II. At 17, it was my chariot to freedom and my steed to adventure, but it came to be mine in a heartbreaking way. It was my father’s first car that he purchased new, and as a Sicilian immigrant who spent a lifetime working in the Paterson silk mills, I came to understand that his most prized possessions were the Hackensack home that he bought after decades of renting and his prized, four-door Chevy. Both represented his sweat equity.
He was 65 when he bought that car – it was $2,400 – and quite a sum for a factory worker. I recall the dealer wouldn’t budge on the price. By the time it came into my hands in 1975, a decade later, Dad had developed severe cataracts in both eyes and could no longer drive safely. He reluctantly handed over the keys and I knew all too well the sorrow in his heart over his loss of freedom. I drove that car and took on the role of family chauffeur out of necessity a year before I’d even attained my driver’s license, all under Dad’s coaching and watchful if clouded eye. Dad did not have a need for speed and never drove it over 30 miles per hour. When I first took the Nova onto a highway and hit 65, I was shocked to see in my rear-view mirror a curtain of black smoke trailing the car. I was convinced the Nova was ablaze. I later realized that it was carbon buildup in the engine from never being unreined.
It was this car, which I’d named “The Old Blue Ghost” that took me back and forth daily to community college; that served as my safe harbor when my Mom was dying of cancer and I needed to be alone with my thoughts; where I lay resting on its hood and windshield with my best friend one spring night and into the dawn counting the stars and pondering our futures. I would become a writer and earn part of a Pulitzer. My friend wanted to fly. He would join the Air Force and within two years, receive a less than honorable discharge. It was this car where a long-ago girlfriend and I steamed up the windows at a local lover’s lane, that bore me on road rallies and lake-side summer picnics with cherished friends on days we thought would never end. Its sturdy construction spared my life during a horrible crash and when it was repaired and once again ready for the road, my Nova’s return fell on my birthday. I always took that to be a sign of our bond.
It had air conditioning – of sorts. On summer nights, I’d roll the windows down and pick up a bit of speed. It made for a cool breeze. And for whatever odd reason, no matter where I parked, there always seemed to be a splattering of bird droppings somewhere on the car. A friend who considered himself an expert on all thing aviary explained that birds preferred to defecate over water, and that my aqua-blue Nova, from a bird’s-eye view, appeared to be nothing more than a respectable puddle. To this day I don’t know how true that is.
I lost her (feminists, please forgive the term) when in 1977 my Nova blew a head gasket and I couldn’t afford to rebuild the engine. It broke my heart. And today, when I find my way to attend a local antique car show, I always hope to spy a 65 Chevy Nova and relive moments of my youth, moments never forgotten and most poignant to me.