Mom Pushes a Ford
My Mom was so strong. When I was little and had finished my bath, I would stand up in the tub and she would wrap a towel around me and swing me up into the air with a whoop and stand me on the toilet seat. It was our bath time ritual. Then she would give me a big hug and towel me off. I loved it. She only stopped lifting me out of the tub that way when I thought I was too old and asked her to stop, not because I was too heavy for her to lift. It’s my favorite memory of my Mom. So big, so strong, so loving. Love in a rough way. Her hands were always cracked and rough. She would rub me with a hard towel, dried on the clothesline and rough itself. Mom wasn’t gentle. But both she and her love were so strong.
My cousin Robert came from Tampa Florida to our farm for a summer when I was in eighth grade. I think his Dad, my Uncle Eldon, wanted him to experience farm life. Darwin had an old Ford, a 54 I think, in the garage that we wanted to mess with. It was a work car that he stopped driving. He had switched to driving a pickup truck to work. Darwin always had a lot of vehicles, trading, repairing, and reselling them all the time. We wanted to wash it maybe. Pretend we were driving it. We needed something to do. The garage was so small you had to pull cars all the way to the front wall, bumper almost touching, in order to shut the door. Robert and I couldn’t push it out. I said I would ask my Mom to help.
“Yeah. Mom. She’s strong.”
Robert’s Mom was small, blonde, refined, and always dressed up. She was southern and spoke slowly in what I thought was a superior tone. Aunt Doris would never try to push a car out of a garage. That would be nonsense to her. I went in the house to get my Mom. She was cooking, stirring something on the stove, wearing a cotton print housedress I bought her. I always bought her a house dress at Livingston’s in Bloomington for Christmas. Size 22 and a half. I picked them out myself. She had a dish towel draped over her shoulder.
“Hey Mom, Robert and I want to push Darwin’s work car out of the garage.”
“We just want to mess around with it. Maybe clean it up.”
She looked hard at me for a minute. She could look through me almost. But her look softened. She knew Robert and I were having trouble being occupied, and he’d only been there a few weeks. We had a long time to go.
“Okay, but I don’t want to hear that thing start up. No messing with the engine and no driving it around.”
“It won't start Mom. No battery. No fan blade or belt either. I think Darwin is using it for parts. Can you help us get it out of the garage?”
“What, you can’t push it out, the two of you?”
“Not even close.”
“Are the tires flat?”
“No they’re fine.”
She huffed as she said that. Mom got huffy when she talked about shortcomings. She always thought I could do more. She thought she could do anything and that I could too. It wasn’t easy.
“All right, I’ll help.”
It was a hot day and hotter still in the garage. There was a tire rack on the wall above the hood of the car and you had to stoop down to get under the tire rack but between the front bumper and the wall. She looked the situation over like a puzzle she was about to solve.
“OK, Robert you get in the car and keep the wheels straight. Is it in neutral? Yeah? Well at least you knew it had to be in neutral.”
“Heck Mom, did you think I didn’t know that?”
She ignored me.
“OK David, you get in the corner and push by the headlight, I’ll get in the middle, and we’ll get this thing rolling.”
Back then you didn’t see women do these things. Maybe that’s what made such an impression on Robert. Now we have women boxers and weight lifters and basketball players but back then at the start of the sixties there were not a lot of strong women role models. Mom was solid. Big legs, big chest, big arms. Overweight, but solid. She was beginning to sweat before she wedged herself between the wall and the hood of the Ford. She planted her feet squarely on the floor with her legs spaced shoulder width. She got a good grip on the hood and before she began to push she took a big breath and held it. Her chest flattened out some against the hood and she threw her weight against that big Ford which had been sitting for months without moving. As she pushed her face reddened. A vein on her forehead began to grow. Big drops of sweat formed on her face. I was so taken with watching her push I think I forgot to.
And then I looked at Robert. His job was to just sit and steer the car, but doing so put him face to face with Mom. Only the windshield separated them. I was looking at Robert who was staring straight into the red, sweating, strained and contorted face of my Mom. Her eyes were squeezed shut but Robert’s eyes were big. He looked scared.
The car slowly began to roll. As it did Mom extended her arms, pushed away from the car and moved her hips lower. She drove the car forward with her legs, her face now just above the level of the hood, still straining, eyes still clamped shut. Robert couldn’t take his eyes off her face. The look in Robert’s eyes went from fear to what appeared to be awe.
Now that the car was moving I began to push and it rolled out of the garage and into the sun. A dirty old two tone, dark blue and light blue, Ford Crest Liner with its best days behind it. I thought it looked great.
Mom took the dish towel from her shoulder and wiped her face.
“See that wasn’t so hard.”
And with that she walked back to the house and disappeared inside.
“Wow.” You’re right David. Your Mom really is strong.”
“Hey. I helped, you know.”
That’s the way I like to remember my Mom; strong, confident, and willing to do anything for you.