Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Car stories July 22, 2022

I expect the driver of this 1956 Plymouth Plaza has stories to share about the vintage car he drove to the Faribault car show. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

ATTENDING THE July 15 Downtown Faribault Car Cruise Night prompted the stories I am about to share. Experiences create stories, which help us to understand and connect with one another. What are your car memories?

Mine are of my bachelor Uncle Mike’s blue-green Nash Rambler, a small (for 1960) boxy car. He didn’t need a roomy car. I remember the Rambler for its size, its color and its name. And its novelty among all the Chevys and Fords.

And then there was Grandpa Bode’s salmon-hued car, make and model unknown to me then and now. The color imprints upon my mind as does the rapid blink-blink-blink of the blinker. If I heard the sound now, I would still recognize it. But to describe the distinct blink proves impossible. I remember also the clear plastic that covered the seats and how, on hot summer days, the bumpy plastic stuck to my legs.

Heading north on Central Avenue in Faribault near the end of the July 15 Downtown Car Cruise Night. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

Grandma Kletscher drove a boat of a car. Large, white. Occasionally she threaded a garden hose into the exhaust pipe, started the car and gassed the moles tunneling through her yard. She was stubborn, determined, innovative. I recall, too, riding with her in that car to nearby Belview to shop for fabric at the general store. She would choose yardage for shapeless dresses I stitched for her. Simple. Zipper tracing down the back. Darts at the bustline. Short-sleeves. Basic dresses to cover her stout frame.

I recall, too, my dad’s 1959 black-and-white Chevy Impala, our family car until he sold it to a neighbor boy and later wished he hadn’t.

Dad liked spacious Impalas. I remember his second Impala, blue in color, and how our family of eight, plus Grandpa, piled inside for our once-a-year trip to visit relatives in The Cities. We packed like sardines, shoulder-to-shoulder, hip-to-hip with no wiggle room between kids. If not for the excitement of actually leaving the farm for some distant travel, I doubt we would have managed the miles. But the adventure kept us focused as we watched for the Flying Red Horse and Caterpillar landmarks, our GPS of sorts along with a paper road map pulled from the glove box.

All the vehicles along Central Avenue hold stories. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

And then there was my first car, a 1976 yellow Mercury Comet purchased right after my graduation from college. It soon garnered the nickname, Vomit. Two flat tires on the day I bought the former rental car from Florida should have sent me back to the Minnesota dealer. The car seemed to have endless mechanical and other problems. A door that wouldn’t close all the way in the depths of winter. A black interior that heated like a sauna in the summer. And too many other issues that fit the Vomit moniker.

Yet, my Vomit with the “press” sticker adhered to the windshield got me to where I needed to be during my early days as a newspaper reporter: chasing fire trucks, interviewing sources, attending endless local government and school board meetings, trying to source information about a murder in New Ulm, covering a homecoming celebration in Odin in 1981 for Bruce Laingen, an American diplomat held hostage in Iran for 444 days…

Those are my car stories. We all have them. What are yours?

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling