Saturday, August 15, 2009

My First Car

All the talk about the cash for clunkers program got me to thinking about my first car. Boy things have certainly changed and not just with respect to buying cars.

My father made a deal with me that he would match whatever I could come up with to buy my first car. From the time I earned my first nickel I was a saver. My allowance, back in those days, was two bits (twenty five cents) a week.

I grew up on a ranch near a small no more town called Ventura. Ventura is about thirty miles south of Santa Barbara and sixty miles north of Los Angles on the California coast. In those days the area was mostly agricultural. Today all that beautiful, rich soil has been paved over to sprout houses. The climate was and still is as close to perfect as you could get and it seems people prefer melanomas to melons.

I earned some of my money picking one crop or another. The crop picking memory that sticks in my head involved walnuts. When I was about ten a school chum offered me a “get rich quick” scheme, or so I thought. Her family owned walnut orchards and it was harvest time. She told me we could earn five dollars for every bag of walnuts we picked. In the early sixties five bucks was big money. I figured I ought to be able to get at least a couple of bags in a day. Ten or fifteen dollars for a day’s wages, that was just too good to be true. Of course I knew nothing about picking walnuts, my family was in citrus and avocadoes.

I certainly learned about picking walnuts that day. The walnuts were shaken out of the tree onto the ground so they had to be picked up. A good number of the nuts hadn’t shed their outer shell so those had to be shucked. There is something in those outer skins that stains your hands a ghastly yellow. And, those bags were really big. By the end of our backbreaking day my friend and I had managed to fill one bag between us. Our fingers looked like we had been smokers for at least a hundred years! Not surprisingly, that was my first and last stint as a walnut picker.

In 1960 my grandmother passed away. She left me 100 shares of AT&T. Unlike today, in those days companies paid dividends and management answered to them. Nowadays shareholders take all the risk and the executives pay themselves lavish salaries instead of dividends. One hundred shares of stock don’t seem like much today but back then those shares paid me $240 per year in dividends. That was huge for a kid my age. Unlike today, back then, savers were rewarded. I had never heard the word compounding” but compound I did. It just seemed like the smart thing to do.

By the time I was seventeen I had saved up $1,300 dollars and I knew exactly what I wanted. From the time I was a very little girl I loved horses and was riding one as soon as I was allowed. Originally, I thought I needed a pickup to haul my tack in. But then I discovered the Chevrolet El Camino. It was love at first sight. The best of both worlds, it was a car with a bed. Perfect! Now that was a bed for hauling equipment lest you get the wrong idea.

I think my father was somewhat dismayed when I announced I had saved up $1,300 and was ready to buy my new car. Now, he had to cough up his share. You probably think $1,300 is no big deal but you would be wrong. In today’s dollars it’s probably more like $10,000.

I’ll never forget the evening my father said, “Let’s go see about that car”. I was so excited. We headed off down Telegraph Road to Fillmore and William L. “Chappy” Morris Chevrolet. The dealership still exists today but Chappy is no longer with us.

Walking into the lit up showroom was exciting in itself. But, to be there to pick out my new car, well that was beyond the beyond. When I say, “pick out” I don’t mean wander around a huge lot looking for a needle in a haystack. I mean looking at a catalog and choosing the paint, the seat covers, the carpet, the engine, the transmission and other options. General Motors took that order and made that car just for me, just the way I wanted it and it cost just $2,600.

When you hear people talking about how our standard of living has gone down so much in the last forty years I think this story really illustrates what they are talking about. For $2,600 GM promised me the moon and they delivered. I don’t think there is an equivalent on the market today. But if there were a similar car/truck you’d most likely pay ten times as much and have to take what was on the lot.

My father could have easily just given me the car but he always insisted that his children work for what they got. This was not a bad thing. I learned self-reliance. Self-reliance is equivalent to freedom. I never thought I had to depend on a man for my survival as most women of my era did. It simply never occurred to me I couldn’t provide for myself. Most women were trained to believe they had to have a provider. Now that I think about it I need to be thanking my father for being such a “jerk”.

Back in the sixties people saved to buy what they wanted. We didn’t take things for granted and we really appreciated what we got. It seems, thanks to Madison Avenue, in the last twenty years people have gone berserk with credit. They have bought everything they wanted when they wanted it without having earned it. Now General Motors is bankrupt and people have become enslaved to their creditors. It truly is difficult to believe this has happened. A truly wonderful time in America has slipped away only to be remembered by old fogies like me.

©Kinsey Barnard Photography

Friday, August 7, 2009



Lady Jane died seven years ago today. She was my mother and I miss her.

My mother was the epitome of grace and elegance. Hence the nickname Lady Jane. She was the kind of woman who turned heads when she entered a room. In her nearly eighty-nine years I don’t believe I ever heard her use a curse word except in private as a joke.

When Lady Jane found out she was pregnant with her last child she announced to the world "This is my last baby and I am going to spoil it to death." As luck would have it, that child was me. I was spoiled pretty good as I recall.

I don't know exactly what it is but there seems to be an extra special bond between a mother and her youngest. I didn't really become aware of our bond until I was a young woman. It was whilst on safari in Kenya East Africa that we forged a relationship that was more than mother daughter. It was that and much more. We truly became life long friends. Although it was sometimes tough for her there was nothing that I could not tell her.

The thing I regret the most is that I was always so full of myself and did all the talking. My mother had an appetite for listening to my tales that knew no end. I think she lived a little vicariously through me. At the time that was wonderful but now I wish I had spent more time asking her about her. There is so much I will never know because I never thought to ask.

In the end my mother had Alzheimer's. I took care of her for nearly seven years. Through it all she remained the epitome of elegance and grace. People have a tendency to underestimate persons with dementia and it used to really make me angry. They would talk in front of mother as though she weren't even there. But, she was there.

There are so many wonderful memories I hold in my heart. But, the memory that will grip my heart until the day that I die is of her, hardly able to remember or do anything, shuffling up to me, taking my face in her hands, looking up into my eyes with more love than can be imagined and saying, "You are my baby."

I miss you Mama and I'm still your baby!

©Kinsey Barnard