Tuesday, June 2, 2009

THE FAMILY BUSINESS


For forty years, my Grandfather Paul Greenlaw, owned and operated a firm called Motor Sales and Service, a Ford truck and car enterprise, beginning with the advent of Henry Ford’s Model A and ending in the period following WWII when he was too ill to continue with the Ford franchise. I guess that cars are “in my blood” as I’ve always liked them, especially classic cars – and particularly Fords of the 1939 – 1947 vintage. As I’ve mentioned in a former blog, in 1946 our family traveled to Diddy Wah Diddy (California) in a 1941 sky blue Ford coupe, complete with waterbags on the hood for driving through the desert and with enough room to accommodate six people – two adults and four children, not to mention a cocker spaniel that lay at my feet the entire trip. When I look at pictures of that coupe online, I wonder how we all fit in, but photos of the back seat reveal a lot of space under that rear hump on the back of the coupe.

My father sold the coupe in 1949 when the style of the Ford became square, and none of us ever liked the ’49 car as much as the old hump-backed coupe. Nowadays, I could purchase a replica of the ’41 coupe for approximately $38,000, but I don’t love the car THAT much and will just have to live on the memory of it by attending movies such as “Walker” starring a red ’41 Ford coupe. Those wide whitewall tires take me back because my brother Paul and I, as teen-agers, once spent a lot of time scrubbing them white before we were allowed to use the car for double dates in Franklinton, Louisiana.

As far as I can tell, from stories told by my mother, my grandfather sold more Ford autos when the Model A was introduced. It’s reputed to have had streamlined Lincoln-like styling and a four cylinder engine, with prices beginning at $460. Nearly 5,000,000 of this model were sold until the production of it ceased in 1932. A dozen years later, I discovered an old gramophone in my grandfather’s attic and spent hours listening to a thick-bodied record of “Henry’s Made A Lady Out of Lizzie,” the promotion song for the wonderful Model A.

When business at Motors Sales and Service waned during WWII, I can remember going down to the office with my grandmother every afternoon around 3 p.m. -- after we had a nap and when we had bathed and dressed properly for “town.” In the office, I was allowed to run tapes on the sale of non-existent cars, write letters on the company stationery, and roam around in the shop attached to what we called “The Garage.” The aroma of oil and gasoline are still pleasing to me and are redolent of a family business that finally failed due to the hiatus in WWII car production.

Today, I feel relieved that Ford has avoided the bankruptcy of GM by mortgaging its assets to borrow 25 billion dollars and stay afloat. It’s the sole automaker to survive the economic downturn without government help and remains the healthiest Detroit automaker. I wish them continued health – although I have to admit, I drive a sky blue hybrid Honda! Below are the last two verses of a snippet about cars from a poem entitled “Classic Car Show” in my chapbook SOARING:

“The motors are noisy,
vrooming loudly,

overlaying everything,
the engine messaging,

Don’t stop until you reach central Texas,
climb above Buchanan Dam again,

retrace your childhood,
not regressing but recapturing innocence,

and perhaps that’s what classic cars are:
recapturing innocence.

Classic cars, a sheen so bright,
road dust a sacrilege,

rain an impiety,
evangelizing so well

the mission of adventure,
advertising leave it all behind,

just go and find
the soul complete…

in a V-8 engine.
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