Just before the second little girl was born Joe and Vera had saved enough money to buy a second-hand 1928 Chevrolet. This car, eleven years old when they bought it, was destined to find a place in the heart of family.
Vera was in labour when Joe drove her to the city so fast that he was pulled up by police for speeding. Joe always claimed that he avoided the fine by telling the policeman that this baby would be a lovely redheaded girl like her mother. Little Veronica was exactly that.
Vera loved that car, especially the French-blue sheen of the duco. She wrote,’ … when we bought the car, rain hail or shine meant a [Sunday afternoon] drive to [the Yarra River at Heidelberg], the bush. If it rained the children brought books, reading books or colouring in books, Joe brought the Age and me the Tribune. No matter if it rained, we were all together, all under the one roof … it was a beaut warm feeling huddled up in the warm car with the rain pattering on the roof’. The kids preferred sunny days when they could swing out on a rope to swim in the Yarra.
There was one Chev incident that Vera didn’t appreciate. It happened like this.
Joe kept a bundle of cotton factory waste, together with his tools, under the removable front seat. It was useful for wiping his greasy hands on the frequent occasions that the motor needed attention. On a warm summer evening we drove home from the beach, sunburned and sandy. As we came to Princes Bridge Joe said in a careful matter-of-face voice, ‘Now, I don’t want anyone to panic. No need to panic whatsoever. We are on fire but it’s alright. I know where there is a horse trough’. No doubt Vera panicked, at least a little bit, but true to his word Joe pulled up precisely at a horse trough in the heart of the city. ‘All out now’. Doors were flung open. The smouldering front seat and the blazing cotton waste landed in the water. ‘See’, he said. ‘No need to panic’. Vera thought otherwise. ‘We are in the middle of the city Joe. We could meet someone we know.’ Vera cared about dressing and behaving with dignity in the city.
While we were driving together to the football one Saturday afternoon to barrack for Carlton, a gust of wind ballooned the canvas roof and ripped it. We all held it down till Joe found a park, tucked the torn canvas inside and headed off to cheer the Blues. For the drive home our Chev was as good as a fashionable ‘convertible’.
Once the canvas roof was repaired, we went together on special occasions to drive-in picture shows. By this time the canvas roof was threadbare and leaky, so we took umbrellas on rainy nights.
We related to the Chev as if it was one of the family. The thermometer, set into a decoration on the front of the bonnet, showed a red line rising when the engine was about to ‘boil’ and spurt rusty hot water on the windscreen. This became a signal for us to stop in a ‘good cool spot’ for a picnic. At home the Chev was parked in a back-yard garage; I used it as a reading hideaway where I could access my stack of library books and be transported to other worlds. It was a place to laugh, to weep, to sob out loud.
I was three years old when the Chev came into the family and about eighteen when it left us to become permanently part of a playground for young children. Its engine had finally expired.