(first posted 9/10/2013)
Louis Gendron! That’s all I could think of when I spied this ’68 Ford Ranch Wagon at a four-way stop down the street.
I’m uncertain whether I ever met the man or not. However, seeing this wagon showered me in a tsunami of a mixture of forgotten, pleasant, and bewildering childhood memories. The subconscious definitely has a way of reminding you who is in charge of your psyche.
Growing up in a town of 450 souls is a mixed bag of the highest order. You know everyone, and everyone knows you. Starting from my days in elementary school (where my cousin worked in the office taking attendance, my grandmother was head cook, another cousin was my fifth-grade teacher, and my father was president of the school board) onward, I realized that doing anything in a small town is akin to posing in your birthday suit in a storefront window in downtown Manhattan–lots of people will see you and talk about it. But my experience with a particular 1968 Ford Ranch Wagon was the absolute inverse of what I expected (1968 Galaxie CC here).
To me, Louis always was an enigma of sorts. From what I can determine, he was every bit as ordinary as white milk, but there was a mystique about his behavior. Louis had moved away after his wife’s death and his daughter had moved into their house. However, Louis had left his cars parked under the pecan and walnut trees beside the house, and among them was a green ’68 Ford Ranch Wagon.
The alley that ran beside Louis’s house went directly behind my aunt’s house as well as the house of my bachelor great-uncle, who lived next door her. Walking out the back door of my aunt’s house netted you a fine view of both Louis’s Ranch Wagon and its mate, an aqua ’68 Pontiac Catalina sedan.
For the life of me, I never could understand why Louis left his cars behind. Nor could I understand why he allowed his daughter to place the burn barrel for her trash right next to the Ford.
My memories of Louis’s ’68 Ford are quite vivid even though I have no idea how long his cars sat there. Two years? Ten years? Time is an abstract concept to many children, you see. It must have been for quite a while, since all the glass on each car had been rendered little more than translucent by sap from the nut trees.
Of the two cars, the Ford always spoke to me louder. Perhaps it was the angry demeanor of the Pontiac’s handlebar tail lights in contrast to those on the friendlier-looking Ford. The Ford was very much intact and seemed not to be aging, likely due to its encapsulation in tree sap and soot. There was no engine call-out on the front fenders stating “390” or “428”, leading me to believe it was powered by either the 240 CID straight six or the 302 V8. For 1968, Ford had a rather large gap in their V8 engine lineup, jumping from the 302 to the 390.
My seemingly frequent inquiries to my father never revealed why Louis had left his cars. I was always told, “He left them there”, a statement so ridiculously obvious that it insulted even an innocent and curious child. Even my probing questions to my great-uncle across the alley (who knew everyone in town, and whose living room was the clearing house for all local gossip) netted me nothing: “Louie left them there to rest; he may have had to leave town quickly. Did you know some members from the Chicago mob used to hang out up at the Purple Crackle?” The leaving town part was likely a red herring for my uncle’s amusement, but it surely created a wealth of possibilities in my fertile young mind. Was the mob after him? Did he owe somebody money–like, for instance, the mob? Was he trying to outrun the authorities? How did his wife die? I suspect the workings of my mind have provided a source of idle entertainment to others for over four decades now.
Even asking Louis’s granddaughter, three years my junior, proved a profound exercise in futility. However, if one believes the stereotype of females being amazingly disinterested in automobiles, her response would have only reinforced the perception: “Mom hates them; grandpa leaves them there.” Of course, in retrospect, she was right around ten years of age at the time, so why would she have cared? I never was able to muster the courage to actually ask Louis’s daughter, a very friendly woman who oozed an intoxicating aura that accentuated her femininity. One must overcome awe before regaining the ability to speak coherently.
Perhaps I am the only person who actually cared why such a fine ’68 Ford Ranch Wagon was being left to deteriorate. I certainly couldn’t detect the first wisp of concern from anybody else.
One sad and gloomy day, both the Ranch Wagon and Catalina vanished without a trace. Perhaps Louis finally had a change of heart and realized he was missing out on a most awesome slice of Ford wagon goodness. Let’s just hope.