More than a missing hubcap
By Brian Doyle
One night years ago, my mom and dad drove to a movie in our town. We lived on the south side of an island originally called Paumanok by the people who lived there for thousands of years after the glaciers fled north. My folks were driving the Dodge Aspen, the trusty sturdy family car, not like that damned Ford Falcon, which only started if you asked politely in low and friendly tones, without a hint of acerbic dismay, and which finally died one winter day when the engine—actually, no kidding—cracked in half, possibly because there was no oil in it at that time. No gas either. If ever there was a car that was expected to absorb nutrition from the air, it was that damned Ford Falcon, may it rest in peace.
My mom and dad do not remember the movie they saw, although they do remember it was at the Gables Theater, which leaked so badly that there were indeed buckets on the floor to catch rain, and which for many years showed cartoons before features on weekends to draw children like myself and my brothers, who spent many hundreds of hours, surrounded by other burbling laughing children, as the scent of popcorn and rain and wet socks and sneakers drifted around the place, a scent I catch even now sometimes when I walk by my town’s theater on Saturdays, marveling at the myriad exuberant colors and styles of today’s rubber boots for children, whereas once they came only in red and green and gray.
Upon exiting the movie, my mom and dad got back into the Aspen, which was probably parked on Fox Street, and they started home, and they went for almost a block before they noticed that one of the back doors of the car was missing. My dad would have pulled over to make sure that the door was adamantly gone, as my dad is a meticulous guy, and never says such things as the door is missing unless the door is inarguably missing; not for dad the casual exaggeration or hyperbole, the careless remark, the approximation; it’s no accident the man was a very fine editor and journalist all his life, renowned to this day for the clarity of his spoken and written prose, which is as clear and lucid as a stream high among the peaks of the Cascades.
The local police were impressed with the precision with which the door had been removed, and they speculated that the door had been removed on order, someone specifying a blue 1976 Aspen rear door like you would specify your eggs over easy or marbled rye toast instead of seeded rye, and my folks had the door replaced a few days later by a man named Marty. But for a few days there they drove the car with three doors instead of four, and oddly those jaunts around town, somewhat doorless, are what absorb me this morning. As my dad says, the neighbors would gape and shout, Jim, your door! … which is not something you hear every day in the social ramble, and it occurs to me now that it must have been slightly weird for my mom to do errands and carry children around with the wind whirling happily in the back seat. All those little odd moments that make up being a parent, so many of which slide away from memory, but all of which comprise the way you were a parent, so patiently and tenderly and wearily and joyously and fearfully and gigglingly—that’s what I am occupied by this morning. As my mom and dad drove home from the movies, annoyed and exasperated and a little frightened, but also tempted to laugh at the sheer weirdness of the moment, neither of them said anything for a few minutes, as my dad seethed and wondered where they would find the money for this. And then my mom, a wry wit, said, Pretty good movie though, and they both laughed, and then a moment later they were home.
Brian Doyle is the editor of Portland magazine and the author of numerous books, most recently the novel The Plover.