The White Wagon
--Part Five--Where family cars are concerned, no one in our family can claim to have been as thoroughly shafted as my older sister, Anne. I am party to blame. Because my mother drove a station wagon, I ended up playing the most ridiculous instrument in the orchestra, the stand-up bass. I started playing when I was ten. By the time I was twelve I had convinced my parents and myself that I was destined for greatness. The only thing standing between me and the New York Philharmonic was a quality instrument to practice on. My parents sacrificed to indulge even their children’s most wrongheaded desires. I desired a two-thousand dollar double bass. My parents took out a loan.
Unfortunately for Anne this was about the time she turned sixteen years old. Here’s where the shafting takes place. A double bass is an outrageous thing for a middle-class kid to ask for, right up there with a pony or a set of bag pipes. A car, on the other hand, is an absolute necessity for a sixteen year old girl living in the suburbs. Anne’s car money had been spent on the bass I was using nightly to fill our house with music that sounded like cat sex. There was something fundamentally unjust about this. Our dad tried his best to remedy the situation.
Dad’s solution to the problem turned out to be a white 1977 Mercury Grand Marquis with red vinyl interior. That’s what Anne received for her sixteenth birthday. Upon seeing her new car for the first time, she immediately burst into tears and ran into the bathroom. It could have been worse. Maybe a cement mixer or one of those tiny cars that the Shriners drive around at parades would have been more embarrassing. Maybe some type of amphibious assault vehicle from WW II. But the Merc was pretty bad. Anne might have driven it around the block one time.
At this point Anne began borrowing the White Wagon from our mother on a regular basis. It was the wagon that transported her and her friends to the most important social activity for teenagers in Omaha: buying sodas and watching other teenagers buy sodas at the convenience store. The following year, mom bought a new car and the wagon became Anne’s permanently. For the next ten years the White Wagon was what each successive child in our family got for their sixteenth birthday. The ’77 Merc became my dad’s vehicle of choice whenever he needed to comfortably transport more than seventeen people.