The Impala Chronicles (Forty-some Years In A Life), Chapter 6
December 26, 1972: Paint It Black
“Sixty-seven Impala, hey? Nice solid car, that one. Big.” The bluff salesman at Rainbow Motors gave the car the once-over, glancing at the odometer, the seats, and the paint, and popping the hood to see the engine. “Why are you selling?”
The woman who’d driven the car onto the lot seemed almost brittle, holding herself with care as if a quick move might shatter her. She was a middle-aged brunette and nicely dressed, although her coat wasn’t quite warm enough for the Kansas winter, and the lines in her face belonged to someone who smiled often. She wasn’t smiling at all now.
“I don’t need it,” she said brusquely. “I’m flying home in a few days.”
“Well, you know, there’s not that much market for these big ones now, what with gas prices going up. And this one’s got some miles on it ...”
She raised her hand to stop him before his spiel really got going.
“Don’t bother with the explanations to justify a ridiculously low price. I don’t need it, I want to sell it, but I expect a fair price for it. If you’re not serious, tell me now, and I’ll take it to Tomlinson’s.”
He hadn’t pegged her for a local, so her quick reference to the dealership across town took him by surprise. He covered quickly.
“Now, now, don’t be hasty! I’m sure we can come to some arrangement. Why don’t you come into the office while Harry checks it over? Have some coffee, warm up a bit?”
She let herself be ushered into the small office. From the radio on the desk, the Eagles’ Peaceful Easy Feeling segued perversely into an announcer rattling off the news: the death of former President Harry Truman, domestic and international protests about the Christmas Day bombing of North Vietnam, an update that the earthquake in Nicaragua three days earlier had killed over 5,000 people, more questions about the future of the Olympics after the murder of the eleven Israeli athletes at the Summer Games in Munich in September, the forecast of more cold weather with the possibility of snow.
“Now, do you have the car’s title and registration papers?” Wordlessly, she handed over an envelope that yielded three pieces of paper: the car’s Alabama title document and its Kansas registration card, and a letter from a county court in Alabama. He looked at the standard documents first, and raised an eyebrow at her.
“The car is in the name of a Stuart Weissman?”
“He was my son.” Her voice was absolutely flat. “The probate court document establishes transfer of title on all Stuart’s things to his father and me.”
That explained the brittleness.
“My condolences on your loss, Mrs. Weissman. He was a student here?”
There were cracks beginning to form in her composure; her body lost some of its rigidity, as if the heat of the room had softened her.
“Until he was drafted,” she said. “He left his things here with friends. He planned to come back after his tour, finish his degree …” She bit off the rest of what she might have said, and he saw her biting her lip to contain the suspicion of moisture in the corners of her eyes. She reasserted her control by main force of will and lifted her chin to look him in the eye. “Most of his things we gave away, but I need to sell his car. There’s no place for it back home.”
“My own boy was at Da Nang,” the salesman said, quiet and steady, and all his bluster and easy bonhomie were abruptly gone. “He made it home okay last year, thank God. I really am sorry about your boy, Mrs. Weissman. We’ll take care of you, I promise. No sharp dealing.” He stood up, aware that her lip was trembling, but he didn’t acknowledge it as he headed for the door, giving her privacy to regain her composure. “I’ll just go check with Harry on how his inspection of the car is coming, but I’m sure there won’t be any issues; your boy and his friends obviously took good care of it. You just wait right here, and I’ll be back.”
He stepped out and shut the door, and then just stood for a minute with his back against it. Through the thin wood, he heard the radio switch to old Stones – I see a red door and I want to paint it black – and he closed his eyes.
The White House had made a big deal at the end of November about how they wouldn’t make any more public announcements about U.S. troop withdrawals from Vietnam because the force in country was down to just 27,000.
Twenty-six thousand, nine hundred and ninety-nine, he thought. Thank you, God, for my Andy.
That big black Impala would be a reminder of what he had to be thankful for as long as it stayed on the lot. Remembering the year of fear with his boy overseas, he hoped they’d sell it soon.
Author’s Note: As much as the Vietnam War drove people apart, it also brought them together. I see it every time I visit the Wall – the Vietnam War Memorial, carved with the names of all the dead – in D.C.
For me, 1972 was a melancholy year, because it marked the end of the moon missions with Apollo 17’s splashdown on December 19, 1972. Gene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt still remain the last humans to have walked on another world. Gene, I think, was also the only one ever to swing a golf club off the planet (to this day I love his sense of humor!), and Harrison was the only bona fide geologist to take the ultimate rockhound’s trip. The rest of the Apollo launch vehicles were used up on Apollo-Soyuz and on missions to the very short-lived Skylab, but all human travel has been restricted to Earth orbital missions since Apollo 17 came home; only our robots have gone further.