Thursday, January 1, 2009


I've read stories about Great Lakes shipwrecks in the 1800s in which the cargo from the doomed vessel washed ashore, providing a windfall of loot for people living in lakeside communities. As the stranded ship broke apart on a reef offshore, residents would gather on the beach to collect whatever boxes of cargo floated in on the waves.

I visited my hometown over the holidays and was reminded of incidents from my childhood that were kind of the same. I grew up on a rural highway that curved along the shore of a lake, with houses on one side and the lake on the other. The road proved difficult to navigate for someone not paying attention or driving impaired, and a few times some unfortunate sap ran off the highway.

The biggest "incident" happened one evening at dinner time. Our kitchen table was in front of a big patio door that looked out over our yard down to the road. If you were driving west near my house, the road curved a bit to the south (to the left). If you did not make the subtle curve and went straight ahead, off the road, our small "school bus stop" shelter was dead-center.

That's exactly what happened on this summer evening. I probably was 6 or 7. We heard a crash, looked out and saw a car crashed into the rock wall of our garden down by the road, with the shattered wood remnants of the school bus stop strewn on and about the car.

To make matters worse, for us kids at least, is that during summer vacation our school bus stop was used to store all of the inflatable swimming toys for use at the lake across the road.

My memories are a bit hazy, but I remember the whole family running down to the road to see the crash scene, the sheriff coming, etc. The guy was not injured, and had either fallen asleep or was drunk (again, hazy memory). What is clear in my memory, though, is that my brothers and I picked up all kinds of auto parts off the guy's car. We each had our own boxes where we put cool stones, deer antlers Italicand other stuff found in the yard - and to those we added tail lights, bits of grille, maybe a hubcap, etc. We were kind of like those Great Lakes settlers of the 1800s - this treasure trove of cool stuff had fallen into our laps, so we gathered up all the stuff we could get.

I'm not sure what happened to the bits and pieces of wreckage from that particular incident, but when I was home earlier this week I discovered, tucked away in a corner of my room, two other random pieces of cars I had collected around the same time:

On the left is a taillight from a circa-1978 Plymouth Volare that I picked up after some kind of car-jumping or monster truck event at the local Ford dealer. It was one of the wrecks that got crushed during the event, and afterward I scrounged around and picked up the taillight. Around the age of 6 or 7 or 8, I really liked Plymouth Volares because I thought the name sounded cool: Vo - lahr - eh. That may have been just about the only reason to like a Volare.

On the right is a burned-out headlight I snagged from our family's circa-1979 Plymouth Horizon. My dad commuted 60 miles a day in it for the better part of a decade, until it was replaced with a 1988 Dodge Shadow (which years later became my first car). One cold, snowy December night, we were due to visit my great-great aunt in Milwaukee, and our van was in the shop. So, our entire family of six crammed in the Horizon for the 30-mile drive to the big city. I think I sat on the center console between the two front seats. We survived to continue our scavenging ways.

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