The thing about travelling by car is that if you break down–as my family did on the way to menasha in 1964–the vehicle that had been your wheeled independence becomes instead an anchor on the side of the road, like the carcass of the family cow that you can’t just abandon.
In 1964 we waited by the side of the road until a tow truck truck gave us a ride into New Glarus where–while my mother, sister and I waited in the Welkommen restaurant–my dad stayed at the Highway 23 Garage mechanic performed an autopsy on our car.
“It would cost more to fix,” dad said when he joined us in the restaurant, “than we can afford.”
“Then we have no car?” I asked, feeling like the son of a dairyman who has just learned the only cow in his herd has died. “Are we just going to live in New Glarus now?” I asked.
“The garage has a car we can buy,” dad said. “Its a little older than the pontiac, bit the mechanic says it runs fine.”
Up to that moment I had thought that there were no cars outside museums older than ours but one had escaped the display case, and the four of us left the restaurant, walked the two blocks to the garage where waiting on the street was a red Chrysler built in an era when buyers wanted their vehicles to resemble their living rooms in size and furnishings as much as possible. The car had fenders the size of sofas and an awning that projected out over the front windshield, like the designers had not been ready to trust the new-at-that-time windshield-washer technology.
My father handed over what little money was necessary to buy a car older than the combined ages of our family, and we climbed into the Chrysler where i immediately got lost in the cavernous back seat. We were back on the road.