27 December 2011

MY FIRST CAR

The end of the year always seems to make one reflective. I think as one gets older you just get more reflective regardless of the time of year. I recently took a photograph of an old abandoned GMC truck. That photograph and the end of the year thing got me to thinking about my first car which was also a General Motors product, the Chevy El Camino.

My father made a deal with me that he would match whatever I could come up with to buy my first car. From the time I earned my first nickel I was a saver. My allowance, back in those days, was two bits (twenty five cents) a week.

I grew up on a ranch near a small no more town called Ventura. Ventura is about thirty miles south of Santa Barbara and sixty miles north of Los Angles on the California coast. In those days the area was mostly agricultural. Today all that beautiful, rich soil has been paved over to sprout houses. The climate was and still is as close to perfect as you could get and it seems people prefer melanomas to melons.

I earned some of my money picking one crop or another. The crop picking memory that sticks in my head involved walnuts. When I was about ten a school chum offered me a “get rich quick” scheme, or so I thought. Her family owned walnut orchards and it was harvest time. She told me we could earn five dollars for every bag of walnuts we picked. In the early sixties five bucks was big money. I figured I ought to be able to get at least a couple of bags in a day. Ten or fifteen dollars for a day’s wages, that was just too good to be true. Of course I knew nothing about picking walnuts, my family was in citrus and avocados.

I certainly learned about picking walnuts that day. The walnuts were shaken out of the tree onto the ground so they had to be picked up. A good number of the nuts hadn’t shed their outer shell so those had to be shucked. There is something in those outer skins that stains your hands a ghastly yellow. And, those bags were really big. By the end of our backbreaking day my friend and I had managed to fill one bag between us. Our fingers looked like we had been smokers for at least a hundred years! Not surprisingly, that was my first and last stint as a walnut picker.

In 1960 my grandmother passed away. She left me 100 shares of AT&T. Unlike today, in those days companies paid dividends and management answered to them. Nowadays shareholders take all the risk and the executives pay themselves lavish salaries instead of dividends. One hundred shares of stock don’t seem like much today but back then those shares paid me $240 per year in dividends. That was huge for a kid my age. Unlike today, back then, savers were rewarded. I had never heard the word compounding” but compound I did. It just seemed like the smart thing to do.

By the time I was seventeen I had saved up $1,300 dollars and I knew exactly what I wanted. From the time I was a very little girl I loved horses and was riding one as soon as I was allowed. Originally, I thought I needed a pickup to haul my tack in. But then I discovered the Chevrolet El Camino. It was love at first sight. The best of both worlds, it was a car with a bed. Perfect! Now that was a bed for hauling equipment lest you get the wrong idea.

I think my father was somewhat dismayed when I announced I had saved up $1,300 and was ready to buy my new car. Now, he had to cough up his share. You probably think $1,300 is no big deal but you would be wrong. In today’s dollars it’s probably more like $10,000.

I’ll never forget the evening my father said, “Let’s go see about that car”. I was so excited. We headed off down Telegraph Road to Fillmore and William L. “Chappy” Morris Chevrolet. The dealership still exists today but Chappy is no longer with us.

Walking into the lit up showroom was exciting in itself. But, to be there to pick out my new car, well that was beyond the beyond. When I say, “pick out” I don’t mean wander around a huge lot looking for a needle in a haystack. I mean looking at a catalog and choosing the paint, the seat covers, the carpet, the engine, the transmission and other options. General Motors took that order and made that car just for me, just the way I wanted it and it cost just $2,600.

When you hear people talking about how our standard of living has gone down so much in the last forty years I think this story really illustrates what they are talking about. For $2,600 GM promised me the moon and they delivered. I don’t think there is an equivalent on the market today. But if there were a similar car/truck you’d most likely pay ten times as much and have to take what was on the lot.

My father could have easily just given me the car but he always insisted that his children work for what they got. This was not a bad thing. I learned self-reliance. Self-reliance is equivalent to freedom. I never thought I had to depend on a man for my survival as most women of my era did. It simply never occurred to me I couldn’t provide for myself. Most women were trained to believe they had to have a provider. Now that I think about it I need to be thanking my father for being such a “jerk”.

Back in the sixties people saved to buy what they wanted. We didn’t take things for granted and we really appreciated what we got. It seems, thanks to Madison Avenue, in the last twenty years people have gone berserk with credit. They have bought everything they wanted when they wanted it without having earned it. Now General Motors is in and out of bankruptcy and people have become enslaved to their creditors. It truly is difficult to believe this has happened. A genuinely wonderful time in America has slipped away only to be remembered by old fogies like me.

Below is the photograph that got me to reminiscing.



©Kinsey Barnard

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Congratulations on picking out your first horse car! That's a great story not many can tell.
This picture you posted, it's full of possibilities! Don't you just wonder what story it has to tell? How was it abandoned here? Was it a night of youthful indescretion? Was it not worth coming back for? This cab must have some great tales to tell!

Kinsey Barnard said...

Anonymous:

Yes, I quite liked this old truck. And the possibilities, as you point out, are endless. :)