1963 ½ Ford Galaxie 500XL

Last weekend we were looking for something to do that might interest Papa and decided to go to an antique car show. Papa was hesitant at first wondering how far he would have to walk, but quickly warmed up to the idea as soon as he saw the lines of old cars stretching over several blocks. It was fun to see his excitement at the different model vehicles, and to see the old mechanic come out in him. He could name every pre-1975 car and tell us the year it was made, if the colors were replicated correctly and if he had ever worked on that type of vehicle. Pausing to look under the hood of most of the vehicles he made sure the engine was not only properly refurbished but also as clean on the inside as it was outside.   Look at that engine, look at all that room! I have fat Italian fingers, see how there is room for me to work on these cars; cars aren’t made like that anymore. After we completed the first row of old cars I realized he was walking by some vehicles much faster than others, and while we were into the second row I looked over to Doug who nodded and whispered, “He has always been a Ford man.”   Sure enough, he was walking by every one of the Chevys. Papa reminisced about his cars the entire trip home prompting us to start looking for pictures of the various vehicles he has owned.

Papa’s first car was a 1935 Ford convertible. He was 17 at the time and bought it for $150.00. My Ma and Dad never paid for my cars, and my Dad was worried when I bought this one. It had mechanical brakes and my dad told me to be careful, he didn’t think they were safe.

46 and 48 Jeep Tow Trucks Strang's Cities Service
46 and 48 Jeep Tow Trucks
Strang’s Cities Service

Papa was working at Strang’s Cities Service, a local garage on the corner of North Avenue and Ridgeland in Waukegan, Illinois. It was across the street from Louie’s, do you remember Louie’s? He laughed when I remind him I wasn’t around back then. As with all of his cars Papa did the engine work, but left it to auto body professionals to repaint this car’s exterior from black to blue. It looked really nice; I wish I had a picture of that car. He went on to tell me about a near miss he had while operating that vehicle. I was driving one day on Glen Flora at the North Shore tracks and could not stop; I had to swerve to get through a train gate. I must have looked concerned because Papa assured me a train was not coming even though the gate was down. I ripped the car top on the train gate and left my car at the shop that night. When I came home without my car my Dad asked me if I wrecked it. I said Nooo Dad; I am putting hydraulic brakes in it. My dad said, “Come here, let me kiss you, now I can sleep at night.” Mechanical brakes were not made for panic stops; I guess my dad was right they weren’t too safe. I think Ford was the last carmaker to use hydraulic brakes in all of their cars.

Papa's 1950 Ford Convertible
Papa’s 1950 Ford Convertible

Papa smiled when he saw a picture of his 1950 Ford Convertible. I asked him why he liked convertibles, and was told they were the style. I didn’t put the top down in the winter, but I liked to drive with it down in the summer. It never bothered me in the cold weather. Look, this car had skirts, it was neat. I didn’t know what skirts were but he explained they covered the back wheels. See how they come half way down in the back. And look at the tires, white wall tires back then were wide. I used a lot of steel wool and soap on this car keeping the wheels clean. It was sharp. Every Friday night we would Scoop the Loop on Genesee Street between Grand and Belvidere. It was the main business area in Waukegan for a long time. We just drove out cars back and forth and made a lot of noise honking and yelling at our friends. Everybody did it. The police controlled us if we got too loud, but we didn’t really cause any trouble. It was a lot of fun. I can picture a handsome young Papa getting dressed up on Friday nights just to Scoop the Loop with his pals so they could show off their cars.

Wayne and Geri  1956, Fort Leonardwood, MO.
Wayne and Geri
1956, Fort Leonardwood, MO.

We were on a mission and pulled out another box of photos digging for more car pictures. Papa smiled when he found the next batch, he was about 23 and had just completed basic training in Fort Leonardwood, Missouri after being drafted in the Army. My Ma and Dad came to my graduation and so did Marge and Clarence Geib, they were like second parents to Geri.   They brought her to Ft. Leonardwood in their 1955 Ford Fairlane. That Ford was a comfortable car. It was like a big family having everyone there.   He took one more look at the photograph before saying I don’t know whose old Chevy that is next to their car.  Yes, Papa is a Ford man. He was also a pretty sharp looking Private in 1956 standing next to his beautiful young bride.

Geraldine and Papa's 1954 Mercury Monterey
Geraldine and Papa’s 1954 Mercury Monterey

As I continue digging in the box, Papa explained to me that he had owned a lot of cars.   We just traded them for other cars. This is my 54 Mercury Monterey, it was a stick shift. That Merc was a really nice car. We bought it used but it was only a couple of years old. Papa smiled again as he looked at Nana posing next to his really nice car and told me, she was pretty nice too. Yes Papa, she was. I don’t see a picture but I had a 54 Ford junker. I used that car to get back and forth to work after I was married. I drove that car and never even washed it once. Not once. It was a rust bucket, but then all cars in Illinois rust pretty quick. I had a 53 Ford hard top too, that sure was a good one. I drove the hardtop when I wasn’t at work. I don’t see any pictures of that either.

1969 1/2 Ford Pickup
1969 1/2 Ford Pickup

I handed Papa another photograph and he continued on. That is my 1969 Ford F100 Ranger. We bought that new, but it was not our first new car. That is a 15-foot Kent behind it, our first trailer. Man, that pulled good. We had a lot of fun times camping. That is just what we did back then, it was enjoyable. I wonder if I asked Doug and Daryl if they would remember camping as fondly as Papa does.

1968 Ford Pickup
1968 Ford Pickup

We also found a picture from 1991 of his 68 Ford pickup pulling their 5th Wheel. That was a 30’ Real-Lite, it had everything on it. We bought that when we retired and I wanted to travel over the United States and visit all of the friends we met in the service. I wish Geri and I had been able to do that. That truck was OK too, I wanted another 69 but this was almost as good.

1968 Barracuda
1968 Barracuda

After his boys left home Papa bought a 1968 Barracuda to refinish. I am not sure what year I bought that car but it took me a while to finish. I did all of the engine work, and the guy that did the interior and the outside did a super job. I wish I had kept that car; I could have driven it forever. Someone is Arizona is probably still driving it.

Finished...1968 Barracuda
Finished…1968 Barracuda

I do recall that car sitting in his garage for quite a few years in the mid 80’s, and definitely agree that it was a pretty cute muscle car; I wish he had kept it also.

1963 1/2 Ford Galaxie
1963 1/2 Ford Galaxie

The car Papa brought up the most and was most excited to talk about was his 1963 ½ Ford Galaxie 500 XL. He knew we had to have a photograph in our growing pile. I was glad Papa was the one to pick it out. Found it! That was the first car that I bought brand new. It cost me $3400 and I even had to finance it for three years. It. Was. Sharp.

Papa and Doug 1963 1/2 Ford Galaxie
Papa and Doug
1963 1/2 Ford Galaxie

The color was called heritage burgundy and Geri picked out coral for the interior. It looked really good. It was a fastback, you know, the kind that looks more streamlined. We had that car for a long time. We pulled the trailer with it and took a lot of nice trips when the kids were young. I think Geri liked that car as much as I did.

Papa spoke about other cars, but we were not able to find pictures. I had an old Dodge charger I wanted to redo. It had a Hemi with dual exhaust, positive traction and nitrous oxide boost.  Wow! That is in the early 80’s and with two teenagers in the house maybe it was a good thing he never finished a speed car like that. I can vividly remember the sound of that engine revving up the few times Doug or Daryl did drive it to school. I reminded him it also had holes in the floor, or as Papa might say, another Illinois rust bucket. Of course I had a Gremlin. I smiled this time. Papa actually had two Gremlins. One was totaled in an accident, but that is another post. I fondly remember his second Gremlin, and while we did not Scoop the Loop, Doug and I spent many a date night in High School driving in and around Zion in that beige car.

The car show was a great way to spend last Sunday, it was a beautiful day and we logged over two miles that afternoon examining all the cars Fords.   But as it turns out, the Bowling Green Virginia Car Show was really not the highlight of our week. Because Papa had come home talking about the many vehicles he had owned we were inspired to spend the rest of the week digging through old pictures with him. We found photographs he didn’t remember existed and brought back memories that he had not thought about in years.   Papa told us some great stories, and it was in Papa’s own words, entertaining.



Below are a few more of the pictures we found…

Papa, Nana and their niece Cindi, in front of Pete's 1958 Chevy. Easter 1963
Papa, Nana and their niece Cindi, in front of Pete’s 1958 Chevy.
Easter 1963
Late 1950's, Papa working at Strang's
Late 1950’s, Papa working at Strang’s
49 Dodge Tow Truck  Strang's Cities Service
49 Dodge Tow Truck
Strang’s Cities Service



It’s Good to be Home!

Papa might have arrived back at our house in mid September but it took a couple of weeks for him to really come home after his summer vacation. His July vacation turned into an extended two-month stay in California and a quick jaunt to Hawaii vacationing with the West Coast Maroccos’. Traveling can take a lot out of anyone but is extremely difficult for a person with memory loss. Not only does a person experience the anxiety of actual travel, but adjusting into a new environment and then re-acclimating once you arrive home is not easy. Familiarities and routines that may have seemed dull to an outsider are actually a lifeline for people with memory loss. The stability of his day-to-day routines offers a sense of peace, which can be disorienting if broken. He left being an active part of our home life and returned as if he was only here for a temporary visit. In the past month I have realized we may never get back to all of his former routines, but we are constantly working with Papa and reassuring him we will find new ones.

Some things did not change. The day Papa came home he walked directly to his chair, sat down, picked up the remote and said my chair is still good, and I missed my TV. We call Papa’s fancy electric recliner his command center, like his room it is his space entirely and does not change no matter what else is going on. His table that was brought from Arizona is covered with his belongings and we use caution in dusting it to make sure everything is put back in its place. He might offer his seat to another person, but you can sense an anxiety in his voice as he says it. Do you want to sit in my chair really means please sit somewhere else in the room and I will turn on Walker, Texas Ranger for us to watch. That chair is his space, his bubble, his comfort zone. It holds photographs, unread magazines, word search books and his calendar at his fingertips.   He controls the remote and screens every telephone call without stretching more than an arms distance. He is able to sit in that space and make immediate choices that affect both him and everyone else in the room.

Other changes were quickly noticeable. Papa never really said NO before, he has always been game to try new and different experiences and would let us know what he thought afterwards. When he first returned home I was worried with the frequency of the two letter “N” word. He may have mentioned he was tired of walking at times but he never stopped doing things. Now we heard NO, I am old; my feet don’t work right; I can’t walk like I used to. No, I will just wait here. I don’t know if I want to do that or No, I don’t know what I want to eat. Sometimes he would just look at us and shrug his shoulders. I had not realized how much of an issue this really was until he decided to sit in the car instead of going into Costco with Doug his first week back. Costco on a Sunday afternoon is like a playground for Papa, he enjoys the free samples at the end of every aisle or picking up a hotdog or a frozen yogurt on our way out. He did not exercise as much on vacation due to a medical issue, but that has been resolved.  We realized we have to start from scratch to build him up again, to find things he is interested in doing, increase his stamina and encourage him to say YES!  We started slowly walking again, very slowly. But every step he makes is a moment he is up and experiencing life.

I am not sure if Papa had forgotten or if he just didn’t feel comfortable any longer loading his breakfast dishes or bring his dirty clothes to the laundry each morning. He didn’t remember that he used to help me cook dinner every evening or help Doug clean up the kitchen afterwards. His new habit after a meal was to immediately go right back to his chair and ask us when we were going to come sit down with him and watch TV. Where he used to involve himself as the center of our activities he was now worried about getting in the way. But most discouraging for us was noticing he was pausing and waiting for someone to answer for him. We reassured him constantly that indecisiveness is not an option. Papa has a voice and must be an active part in discussions and decisions that affect him. Even if he does not recall each conversation we want him to always be able to freely express his questions, wants and needs and he is never, ever in the way.

I was not prepared for Papa’s slow acclimation back home and was thrilled each time I saw his comfort level expand from his chair to the rest of the house and then to outside activities. We noticed he started feeling more confident after his first ROMEO (Retired Old Men Eating Out) breakfast with the guys. Our weekly Costco runs have improved to where in week two Papa went inside and waited by the snack bar but by week three he watched the Smoothie demonstration for 15 minutes and then wandered over to pick up each and every one of the free samples being offered that day. He loves seeing his friends at church on Sunday, especially when Karen brings him cookies. We went to a car show this past weekend and he looked under every hood and ended up walking over two miles without noticing the distance. We have set out a white board to remind him what his options are for breakfast and lunch or if there is something he can do during the day to keep busy. Last night after running a few errands and then sitting at our neighbors little league game he mentioned I think I want to let my hair grow for a while and It is good to be home. No longer feeling like he is on vacation he has started acting like he lives here again. Yes Papa, we are happy you are home too!