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Requiem for the Pontiac

My dad wasn’t around much. He says he was, says I came home every night for dinner. Which was true. When he wasn’t on the road, he came home every night for dinner. He came home, sat in his chair, read the paper, ate dinner, and then—that was it. At the dinner table he sometimes made jokes and teased us. Sometimes the teasing was good natured, sometimes it was merciless. It was up to us to be able to tell the difference.

He was on the road a lot. He owned his own business, a cotton batting manufacturing company, but he insisted on seeing the customers himself and, often, in collecting what was owed him himself. He would drive, sometimes, up to 600 miles a day. His “territory” stretched all the way across the state of Tennessee and into North and South Carolina. For that he needed a new car every two years because he put a lot of hard road miles on that car. He leased Pontiac Bonnevilles


My dad had three girls. Back to back to back. Three girls in four years. It was good we were girls because my dad was not a ball playing, fishing, camping kind of guy. He was a cigarette smoking, smooth talking, scotch drinking, business man who never wore a suit and believed his primary responsibility to his family was taking care of them financially and leaving the rest of it to my mom. He was pretty good with gifts, in a traditional sort of way, and he often brought us candies and treats from the road which would be lined up on the kitchen counter to greet us when we woke up of a morning. But the one thing he did do with us girls is, he let us each, every two years, pick out the color of the Pontiac Bonneville he was going to lease.

To his credit, the year I most clearly remember I got to pick, I chose a salmon pink. He went with it and drove the damned thing for the requisite two years. I loved it and he didn’t act embarrassed. I think I was eight or nine. Other years he drove gold or navy or black. I can’t remember all the colors. Pontiac Bonnevilles were big and heavy cars. They seemed luxurious and they had room in the back for three girls to fight over who got the most room when the whole family went out together, which wasn’t that often.

We had a couple of accidents in that car. One I most remember was when all three of us were in the car with Daddy taking a drive out to a boat dock and he slammed into the back of another car. Our car, heavy as it was, crumpled in front and we were all shaken up, although no one was hurt seriously. It took us a long time to get back to the house that day.

My dad was a careless and indifferent driver. All those miles, all those years, he went too fast too often. He gathered speeding tickets like flower petals; they piled up on the seats until he paid them all at once. After his divorce he dated a judge for awhile and she got rid of his second batch as a favor. Small town favor so that his license wouldn’t be taken away and he couldn’t earn a living.

As he grew older he began to fall asleep at the wheel and more than once ran off the road. He was a lucky son-of-a-bitch in that he never killed himself or anyone else, but over the course of his life he wrecked more than one Pontiac Bonneville so sometimes he had more than one every two years. My mother, even after the divorce, worried about him, and bought him a device that he was supposed to hook to his ear and that would make a loud buzz when he nodded off, but he never used it. He just kept driving and speeding and taking his chances. He owned and drove Pontiac Bonnevilles for at least thirty five years.

After his retirement at 72 when he sold his business, he decided that he had always wanted a Lexus, so he traded in his last Bonneville and bought himself a used sporty model Lexus of a make and model that they don’t make any more. He drove it around for a few years until he became too old and sick to drive it. It sits in his garage now–although I tried to get him to sell it to me (it’s some car!)—while his wife drives him, carrying his oxygen tanks and his walker in the trunk of her huge boat-like Caddy.

I haven’t asked him how he feels about the end of the Pontiac brand or if he’s even noticed. But it took me up short when I heard.