Norma (my grandmother, far left) poses with Lu, Ronnie and Ronnie in front of a 1940 Dodge. Meriden, Connecticut, 1944. Photographer unknown.
People say a picture is worth a thousand words. I wish I knew the thousand words that told the story behind this photograph of my grandmother, taken in 1944. How did she know the other women in the photo? Did they work together at New Departure? Were they cousins? Neighborhood gals? High school friends? No idea.
Next question: where did she get the fur coat? Did she buy it herself? Was it a hand-me down from one of her six older sisters? A gift from my grandfather? Had she even met my grandfather in 1944? They were married in 1946, but I don’t know much of the backstory there either.
Then I noticed the car. The curve of the fenders, the details around the headlights, the split windshield, the grill, the vents along the side of the hood…magic. I need that. Alas, I know nothing about old cars. I DO know my grandmother liked Buicks, and since the photo was taken in 1944, the car had to be ’44 or older. I started looking at photos of old Buicks. The 1941 Buicks seemed close, but not quite right. Different grill, missing the vent on the sides of the hood: off in subtle ways.
At some point it hit me that this may not even have been my grandmother’s car. I was operating on the assumption she owned the vehicle based on the pose in the photo and the knowledge that her eventual father-in-law owned a garage where my grandfather Newell worked. After my grandmother’s death, one of her sisters told me that Newell’s job meant he and Norma had luxuries other folks didn’t, like a refrigerator. (Norma let her sister Evelyn, living in the apartment across the hall, use it for milk.) Was the car hers? One of those luxuries? Did it belong to my grandfather? One of the other gals in the photo?
Did it matter? Would I want the car any less if it hadn’t belonged to Norma?
Nope. Ownership didn’t make a lick of difference: I want that car.
I kept looking at photos online, trying to identify the car’s year, make and model. I haunted bookstores on my lunch break, plopped down on the floor and flipped through volumes of pictures. Finally the answer popped up on ebay. Browsing through pre-War Buicks, Fords, Lincolns and Chevrolets, I found her. Same lines, headlights, grill, chrome, vibe. I emailed friends and family members. Mission accomplished! Car identified! We’re looking for a 1940 Dodge!
My mother replied, “What is it with you and that car?” I could see her rolling her eyes, a move we both learned from Norma. What is it with me and that car? Destiny, baby. Meant to be. Just you wait.