If each of us were to go back and look at our lives, we could all likely pinpoint a few moments in which our perspectives were greatly altered. Perhaps not a grand epiphany but a milestone moment that helped shape you into a different, and hopefully better and more insightful, person.
Looking back, I’ve had my share. One of the more memorable was in a two-door K-car similar to this Plymouth Reliant.
It was summertime in either 1986 or 1987, meaning I was either 13 or 14 years old. For reasons now lost in time, my younger sister and I were spending several days with my maternal grandparents, “Iris” and “Albert” who were around 60 and 63 years old, respectively.
We had made a trek to a grocery store in Cape Girardeau; most likely, some necessary item was greatly on sale. Generally, we would not leave until after Nikki had been on (a female character in the long-running soap opera The Young & The Restless) and we had to return by the time the weather aired on the local CBS affiliate at 5 pm. This gave a five-hour window to do all necessary chores.
Heading back to their house at around 3:30, Grandpa Albert was getting drowsy. Since Grandma Iris always drove when in any of their cars, Grandpa indulged his sleepiness and took a nap while going down the road. Sitting directly behind him, my mischievous streak was rearing its ugly head, a streak being egged on by my younger sister.
As we were in such close confines, accomplishing this task was rather easy. While trodding down the curvy road back toward their house, I slowly started to pull the extra length of Grandpa’s seatbelt out of its reel. The more I pulled, the more my sister encouraged me. Soon, I had the entire length pulled out, with the seatbelt on Grandpa’s torso unmoved and without slack. As I pondered when I wanted to do this, I just decided to go for it.
Releasing the seatbelt, the automatic tensioner quickly and loudly pulled the slack back onto the reel. While it wasn’t dramatic, it seems the seatbelt gave Grandpa just enough of a jolt to startle him. Badly. And he doesn’t startle easily – I’ve tried.
“Son of a bitch! What the hell was that?”
Without even looking toward him, and knowing full well what had transpired, Grandma Iris tore into me like a hungry lion into a freshly caught gazelle. Bear in mind she remained quite calm, never even raising her voice.
“Jason, you need to cut that shit out. Your grandpa is old and his heart is frail. Boy, you do that business and he’s going to think he’s back in some London nightclub during the war with the Germans bombing the place. It’s not good for him and how are you going to feel if his old feeble heart craps out right here? I doubt you’d very happy with yourself.
“Jason, I’ll tell you what your problem is. You are irresponsible. Doing something like that is not only disrespectful and mean-spirited, it’s as irresponsible as can be. You are at an age where you need to learn some responsibility, because when I was your age I had a job and was helping support my family. And what do you do? You just want to scare the hell out of comatose old men. That’s not being very responsible.
“Jason, I’ll tell you something else. Not acting responsibly can get you in a mess of trouble and really ruin your life. You remember my telling you I was a record keeper at that mental hospital near Chicago during the war? Well, I had to read the records of every person there and very few of them truly had mental problems. Most of them were either really bad alcoholics or had very advanced stages of venereal diseases, especially the women who had been prostitutes – there was nothing that could be done for them at that time, but they were all there due to having been irresponsible at some point in their life.
“Do you want that to happen to you?
We pulled into their driveway around this point. She shut off the car engine, kept the windows up, and kept talking.
“Jason, your behavior has been bothering me for quite a while – didn’t you recently throw a sopping wet wash rag into your sister’s room, hitting her square in the face as she lay asleep in bed? You don’t seem to know the first thing about being a responsible young person. You have your moments, but they are few and far between. I think with a little forethought and paying attention you could improve quite a bit. It’s whether or not you are responsible enough to remember to act responsibly. That might be a struggle for you.
“I’m just going to call it the ‘R-word’. There’s no point in your mom and dad knowing about this talk, but from now on, I’m going to ask you every once in a while how you are doing with the R-word. Don’t think I’m going to forget. I’ve raised three kids and have to live with your grandfather, so I know all about people who claim to forget everything except how to eat and breathe.
“The R-word is sadly lacking in your life. And the same goes for your sister. But, Jason, I think you can do it. Just start by not being so mean to your poor, old grandpa and quit doing all that stupid shit you’ve been doing.
“That’s all I have to say for now.”
Upon her saying this, Grandpa looked at her and said “Ma, you done? I’m hot.”
I’ve pondered upon this grilling many times since then, so I suppose Grandma Iris succeeded in her quest. While I have no doubt she bestowed me with some other nuggets of wisdom that I no longer remember, I can confidently say the biggies have stuck to me like ticks on a dog’s ear.
Also sticking to me in a similar fashion is my mixture of amusement and shame that prompts a smirk on those painfully rare occasions I see any two-door K-car. For the record, Grandma and Grandpa had a 1985 Dodge Aries at the time, similar to this one, but I’ve been more successful in finding Tatra’s curbside than I have in finding any similar Aries or Reliant for the purposes of this article. Sometimes you just make do with what you have, which is why you have seen this two-door Plymouth Reliant. Incidentally, making use of what you have is another tidbit I was advised about that day.
Finding an Aries LE like the one my grandparents had might be a formidable task; only 3,706 Aries LE two-doors were produced for 1985, making it the rarest Dodge of any variety made that year.
The Aries my grandparents purchased from Harper-Lankheit Chrysler-Plymouth-Dodge in Sikeston, Missouri, replaced a thoroughly underwhelming 1977 Impala. This Aries, like Grandma Iris said about me, also had its moments. It seems the car had a water leak into the trunk. Taking it back to the dealer, the service department claimed they could find nothing wrong.
Grandma Iris didn’t take well to this. She used the same polite, velvet covered verbal fist on the service manager she would later use on me. She informed him Lee Iacocca had just sent her a letter asking about how she liked their new Aries and she didn’t want to have to tell him how abysmal the service department was and how utterly lacking that little guy of a service manager was in manning up to do his job – in other words, he wasn’t being very responsible. The dealer suddenly found where the water was infiltrating.
Of course, Grandma Iris still stands at 5’10” at age 89 and has yet to go gray, so she does have a distinct presence about her. She also knows how to make a long lasting impression better than nearly anyone else I’ve ever known.
Taken November 2014 in Jefferson City, Missouri