This is a love story of sorts. As a child, I loved my eccentric, difficult to understand grandfather, who was a Vet from the battles in France during WWI, and came back a changed man. Knowing what I now know about PTSD, it can be somewhat difficult to think back on those days growing up, especially to realize how little was done for him and how little we understood of this problem. My little brother and I used to spend a week every summer with each set of grandparents. On one side, my mother’s father, was a Baptist minister, where we got to appreciate all the behind the scenes things that goes on in a preacher’s personal life and all the emergency assistance he did for battered women and children and the sometimes midnight moves we had to do to accomodate someone who needed a safe place to stay for the night. We’d be relegated to the couch, while a mother and perhaps her several children would take over the guest bedroom. We were okay with it.
On my father’s side, this war Veteran battled demons on another front, internally. Most of what I remember of him is being in his pajamas and slippers, cooking in the kitchen and singing too loud at church where he’d sometimes start and stop songs inappropriately, or shout out an Amen! which embarassed the heck out of us. We knew when we heard he and my grandmother get up in the middle of the night to sing Tennessee Ernie Ford songs or hymns on the big upright piano, that we shouldn’t be afraid. It wasn’t what we did at home, certainly, but somehow, through our childhood innocence, we accepted him the way he was without questioning things, like I might do today. Some days he spent the entire time we’d be staying there in the bedroom. My grandmother would bring in his dinner, and sometimes we’d hear it being thrown against the wall, and then hear his crying my grandmother would try to dismiss with a smile as she closed the door behind her afterwards.
“Grandpa is having a rough day,” she’d say. Years after he was gone, she’d lovingly say, “Married for over 50 years and never had an argument.” It was a badge she wore proudly. And I think it’s true, he never showed his violence against her, personally. But he sure could sing in the middle of the night, was always swearing under his breath when he couldn’t fix the leaking plumbing in the bathroom, had car trouble with the Ford Falcon station wagon they bought brand new, (the only new car they ever bought) and he did kill a couple of TVs when he didn’t like what was on the news. He thought the country was going to ruin and we weren’t going to survive a coming world-wide recession. But to a child, we just accepted that these things were appropriate, because we loved him. We kept his little secrets until we were adults and horrified our parents with some of the tales. Looking back on it, I never felt in any danger or feared for anything. I ached that God would some day heal his troubled soul, which was a prayer that was only answered when he passed away.
I had fallen in love with my husband that year when he passed. It was decided I would inherit the Falcon. We were living in sin together at the time, just a couple of poor students, and my future husband’s fleet of “fixer-uppers” — a total of 23 — didn’t contain many that were driveable. Most of them couldn’t be started without a lot of what I recall to be WD-40 and a generous dishing out of choice swear words. Like racehorses, this little Falcon took its place amongst the stable of my husband’s riches he bestowed on me when I married him. My grandmother was more upset at the amount of facial hair he had, rather than the number of cars he owned that did not properly work. “It would be nice if I knew what Sharon’s husband looked like,” was her matter-of-fact way of dealing with things.
The day of my grandfather’s funeral we came home to the house they lived in, where my father had been born in, and found the plumbing had indeed backed up that morning while we were praying over grandpa’s soul, and the whole place was flooded. Like a calling card, we knew grandpa was there in spirit, defying even death to come back to earth and have one more row with the plumbing problems at the little bungalow on Wilson Avenue.
When we got home to Sonoma County with the Falcon, what had been grandpa’s nemesis he’d bequeathed to us. The car would work perfectly well, purr like a kitten and be the most reliable vehicle of our fleet, until we really needed to go somewhere. It was always just breaking down for no good reason. It became the “haunted Falcon” because some of the things that went wrong defied logic. We never did find out what that red jelly-like substance was that leaked onto the passenger floor mats, or the strange whines and overheats which spontaneously would strand us. Like a child in those old days, I believed my husband when he told me the car was haunted, because, afterall, he knew a lot more about cars than I did. My favorite thing to say was, “It must be the valves,” and we carry on this conversation to this day for anything we own that doesn’t properly work.
But I honestly think it was my grandpa’s quirky spirit coming back to the objects he battled in life like Marley did in Scrooge. We drove that Falcon the day we hauled chicken manure in it for our vegetable garden, stopping off at the Union Hotel for a soup and salad combo that cost $3.50, and he proposed to me. I said yes, and then was haunted by the decision for the next 2 days and hibernated. I’d stepped into a world of no return. It was probably one of the best decisions of my life.
I have no idea where I’m going with this story, except that I fondly think of this Falcon and its contribution to my life. We sold it to a Jehovah’s Witness guy who liked to stop by our house on a regular basis and I hope his connection with the Almighty was better than ours and he expunged my grandfather’s spirit. But after he bought the car, we never heard from him again, so I hope he was more successful with the car than with converting our souls.