Saturday, February 21, 2015

The Renault and Judy

In 1966 my Mother was a boxed-in, stay-at-home Mom, meaning she spent all of her time in the car.

My Father had the brand new, roomy, 4 door Studebaker, so he could drivehimself to work and back. Carolyn was stuck with the tiny, crappy oooold Renault R8, which looked like a white brick that was frowning.

It sported an 1,100 cc engine which would have worked fine on our lawnmower, and judging by its performance the motor was laid out in a V1 design. It didn't purr - it hiccupped.

That is, when it was moving at all. Being a French car it was in the annoying habit of surrendering to anything that moved, like the sun. But my Sister and Brother had to get to school somehow, and taking the school bus would have meant possibly interacting with people who didn't look exactly like us, so drive it was.

So on this lovely spring morning we all took up our designated positions at one end of  long, straight Los Coyotes Diagonal.
  • Mike, my 13 year old brother (and future linebacker) was pushing from behind.
  • 6 year old Joni was riding shotgun, unbelted of course, on the lookout for dogs or kids or anything in our way.
  • 1 year old me was in my car seat in the back, singing "Paperback Writer".
  • And my Mother was next to the open drivers door, pushing and ready to jump in when the motor decided to turn over. 
Let us pause here and remember them as they existed at that moment, whole, pure, unsullied. Let us picture the long, dirty, grimy, cracked asphalt suburban
This was about a year later; 1967.
frontage road, bleak in its charms and home to exactly one mature tree - at the far end of Los Coyotes, just before it emptied on to the major traffic road.

And let us also pray for several unsuspecting neighbors.

At a signal both Mike and my Mom pushed with all their might, and the little Renault reluctantly begin turning its toy car wheels. When my Mother heard the motor catch she leaped into the drivers seat.

Well, you know my Mom. Close - so close. But heels and mini-skirt conspired against her, and she only got one butt cheek onto the seat. Fine. No problem. 

Except my Sister, who as Lance Gunn would later find out could be just a wee bit hysterical at times, saw my Mother momentarily falter, panicked, and flew across the bench seat to take the wheel, knocking my teetering Mother completely out of the car.

Both of my sisters Mary Janes then landed on precisely the wrong pedal and the little Renault erupted into a hiccuping frenzy down the street.

The frowning brick.
I began another run through of Paperback Writer, loudly this time, trying to be heard over my sisters hysterical sobbing. Mom, much like Frodo after being overthrown by Gollum in Mount Doom, was clinging to the elbow rest on the still open car door with one hand, losing her shoes, nylons and a good chunk of skin as she was dragged down Los Coyotes.

Which left my poor 13 year old brother, showing all of the speed that would later propel his Bolsa Grande Matadors to an 0-24 record in football during the two years that he managed to attend high school, frantically running after the runaway Renault.

And losing ground. Now Michael was never the sharpest french fry in a Happy Meal, but he could be programmed. And one of the things that had been drilled into him was that if anything ever went wrong, he should go down the street and get Judy, another young homemaker, who was our babysitter.

So that's what he did. He peeled off from the chase and burst through Judy's front
My Mother, 1968.
door, scaring the pee out of her entire family, who were all having breakfast together.

Michael's programming was very specific: Get Judy. So he picked her up, ran out of her house with her, and rejoined the chase.

Mom, amazingly, saw my brother peel off behind her as she was bounced around by the uneven pavement and my Sisters pathetic attempts at steering. Mom decided she had better try to save the day herself.

The closest safety device to her prone, skidding form was the brake pedal. She got a good grip on the arm rest with her left hand, and then reached out for the brake with her right - at exactly the same moment that Joni had the very same idea.

So both of my sisters Mary Janes now hit the brake on top of my Moms hands, causing her to scream, causing my Sister to re-scream (and abandon the brake idea), and causing me in the back to start giggling merrily and re-start my 38th go around of "Paperback Writer".

Me, about 10 months old.
Mom flew back out, kept her grip on the disintegrating arm rest, and bounced her face a few times on the asphalt. This lower perspective gave her a view from under the car door. And what she saw was that the busy Main Road was fast approaching.

Ah, but coming up, off to the left, was that one lone tree in the Jorgenson's front yard. Carolyn brought up all of her remaining strength, got her right hand on the steering wheel, and tried the steer the car into the tree.

Close Mom, so close. But she hadn't counted on the curb, which removed her cleanly and efficiently from the situation, and also left her with a hell of a concussion but thankfully not a fractured skull.

The jolt from the curb also jettisoned my Sister, who bounced across the lawn like only a rubbery 6-year can. She emerged with nothing more than a few grass stains on her dress.

The Tree? Looks to be just fine to this day, if I am reading the satellite map correctly.

The Renault missed it completely and instead plowed through the porch and on into the Jorgensons house.
Los Coyotes is actually the darker strip, below Studebaker Rd.
As near as I can guess, the Jorgensens house is across the
street from the red car. Note the tree in the front yard.

My Mother rolled over onto her stomach and looked up over the curb. She saw my Sister sitting on the grass in stunned silence. She saw the rear of the Renault, which now looked like a white accordion, halfway into the Jorgenson's living room. 

And from the quickly rising cloud of escaping radiator steam she heard ".....It's based on a novel by a man named Lear, and I need a job and I wanna be a Paperback Writer...."

Both her young children were safe and she had saved them from almost certain death. A shadow then came across her, and Mom rolled over to see my exhausted, panting brother finally arrive, still carrying Judy, who was still holding her fork from breakfast.

And My Mom, bleeding, bruised, contused and concussed, did the only thing she could do under the circumstances. 

She started laughing.

Angus McMahan

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