Clare County Review & Marion Press Columns

Postcard from the Pines: $50 Cars and Petunias

Back in the days of Berry’s Sinclair Service, located at the corner of Main and Mill in Marion, Michigan, my dad was the chief mechanic as well as the proprietor. For fourteen years, he greeted customers at the pump, changed tires, oil, and brakes and fixed whatever was on the fritz, anywhere on the vehicle. He had a mechanical gift and liked nothing better than a vehicular challenge.
Dad could rebuild an engine, and did so many times. His cousin, the late Mildred (Pete) Mitchell, once told me that when he was a kid and teen, there was usually a car in some stage of repair under the apple tree in his parents Blevins Street backyard. He drew a crowd of neighborhood kids who were drawn like magnets to watch him work.
During the Sinclair years dad bought, fixed up, and sold used cars. That was a time when $50 would buy good transportation if you weren’t too fussy about the year or the looks. All of the cars that dad bought, traded or sold, may not have looked the best, but they ran like a proverbial top.
My mom had the use of many of these cars before they went on their way. Some got her stamp of approval and she was sorry to see them go; others she disliked so much that she wouldn’t have recommended them to “my worst enemy” if she had any. Dad did not let her drive a car that could give her any problems, but they could happen to any vehicle at any time. And some of Mom’s car problems were doozies. Some dandy cars came our way for a time and we enjoyed them. But, it is the trouble makers that I remember the best.
Dad came by a two-door, light gray 1958 Mercury one summer. It was a great looking car with a carburetor issue and an automatic transmission. That was a real treat at a time when a stick shift was more the norm. Mom rated that car pretty highly until the engine caught fire in front of the bank. Those who came to her assistance scooped up sand from the curb and put it on the small fire. The sand smothered the fire and the engine. It also fired up dad’s temper. It was more trouble to deal with the sand than to correct the problem. That car went on down the road pretty quickly.
Dad’s last cheap car was a 1960 something Ford Falcon he picked up after he retired. He was fearless with it, rambling along any two-track or almost road. It was his fishing car too. He once got an enormous northern pike which, when laid across the trunk, hung off both sides. That was how he always described the size of that monster. I can still see it in my memory.
Today’s equivalent of a $50 car recently came my way. Usually a parent passes a vehicle down to the next generation, and if it lasts long enough, that kid passes it along to another. In this case, the car originated with my granddaughter, who purchased it used when she graduated from high school seven years ago. She drove it to culinary school in Novi 3-5 days a week for two years, and then daily into downtown Flint.
When she graduated from Mott, she got a new vehicle and her dad, son Matt, took the car. He drove it as a cheaper alternative to his Jeep. He put more miles on it, including a trip or two to Texas, and several to nearby states during his wheelchair basketball coaching days. She kept purring along.
These days the equivalent of a $50 car looks like an eighteen year old Toyota Corolla with 300,000 plus miles on her. Her paint is sad, as many of her age are. She’s got an unrepaired ding on her right hip and the equivalent of cataracts on her dull headlight plastic. Some of the window tint wants to peel. Her CD player is dead, as is the clock. She has a pre-satellite radio and would definitely benefit from a good detailing job, but likely won’t get anything special.
Her tires are good, she doesn’t use oil, the ac works like a charm and she is just my size. I can’t think of a better car to use for tracking down garage sales and running to the store. The price of a $50 car requires another zero these days. All things considered, Dad would be pleased.
Did I mention that she still gets 38 miles to the gallon?

  • * *
    We must say a few words about the passing of Shandra Eisenga this week. Her sweet face, bright smile and always sunny disposition made her a friend to everyone in the Marion area. Although she has been gone from our grocery store for several years, she is still missed by us all. Our condolences to her many loved ones. RIP Shandra.

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