This past weekend my sister and I actually managed to wake up early enough both days to get ourselves to another car event. This time however it was not exclusive to Citroëns, though there were a few there (including my sister's Deux Chevaux), but to little cars and the people nuts enough to like (and own) them.
And when I say little I mean little. Micro, in fact.
Most of them were made in Europe and date from the 50s and 60s; I'm not sure quite what that says about Europe, though I suppose being infested with medieval towns with tiny alleyways is a reasonably plausible excuse.
There were Goggomobils
And old-school Minis
And the type of Messerschmitt that doesn't fly
Little Fiats (which I understand is short for Fix it again, Tony)
Wait, let's get a bit of scale on that:
As well as a few Isettas, which, and I am not making this up, are actually BMWs:
And in other things I am not making up, the Isetta was created by someone who also designed refrigerators, hence the door:
There was even an old Beetle there, though it was one of the bigger cars and looked, like the Deux Chevauxs, comparatively ginormous. Luxurious, even.
And again, though I don't generally care a whole lot about cars, I will admit to being amused by these tiny little micro cars. They're just so damned odd. And the people who own them and repeatedly attempt to get them running, in spite of the obvious and regrettable lack of common sense and sanity, are for the most part very nice, and quite funny, too.
So we had fun this weekend, and saw some friends. But it got me thinking about whether I'd ever want one. I don't know.
Because my main criteria for a car is comfort (well, reliability is good, too). And these, well, they're not exactly comfortable. First of all if you are a full-grown adult human you don't so much sit in one as wear one. Second, there is no such thing as air-conditioning in them, and in fact some of them don't even have windows that open, which, I'm sure you can imagine, is a whole boatload of fun on a sunny weekend in July. And honestly I don't know how anyone can drive a Goggomobil and remain conscious, what with the cloud of two-stroke fumes it doesn't have the power to get ahead of.
Because that is one of my bottom lines now: I will be comfortable. Because being uncomfortable is one of the things I remember most about my childhood. Now that may not sound like much; it's not really a big deal to be uncomfortable, right? It's not like actual physical pain. Except that it wasn't a temporary thing, a little thing. This was permanent, and across the board.
It's one thing to do without running water for a few days if say the water main outside your house bursts, or if you are camping. It's another thing to have no water at all most summers because the well went dry, and no water in most of the faucets anyway because when they dripped, and they all dripped eventually, my father's solution was to shut them off and walk away. Or to go without hot water for decades, because your father can't be arsed to install the water heater, which is sitting right there. Just like it's one thing to go outside and be cold in the winter, but another entirely to spend a long, long ride in a car with no heat at all, and then come home to a house set at 55 degrees. You simply never get warm in the winter.
It becomes the default, this lack of comfort, this profound unease. In winter you exist from that center of cold-in-the-bones, and any moment of warmth is the temporary thing. It always settles back to being cold, being uncomfortable. Worse yet, if I ever complained I was mocked, told it was nothing, not a big deal, what was I a princess expecting a life of luxury? That was the word my mother threw at me, princess.
And the old, shitty, non-heated, falling apart cars were of course a large part of all of that, especially since my father insisted on dragging all of us to all kinds of places like Import Auto Parts that we could not have cared less about. It was about control on his part as usual, I guess, or something to do with that personality disordered profound lack of understanding that people who were not him didn't naturally like everything he liked.
But getting back to the little car meet-thing. It's not exactly a big community, the micro car enthusiasts, especially given it's Massachusetts. And though the old Volkswagens aren't exactly micro cars, there is a fair bit of overlap in the communities. So there were more than a few old VW fans there.
Now my father worked out of a garage (or shop) on the property for something like thirty years, up until the mid 90s or so.
Saturday afternoon some of the little car people got talking about project cars they had (and trust me, little cars are invariably project cars). They were comparing numbers, how many of the things they had at the worst before they sobered up and came to terms with the fact that some of them were just never going to be fixable, and that they were just never going to have the resources to sink into some of the more hopeless cases.
I interrupted right there, and told them I had them all beat. Seventy-eight cars in the yard, I said. Then, when they looked at me in shock, I explained that my father was a hoarder who was also a Volkswagen mechanic, and one of the things he hoarded was old Volkswagens.
Then one guy looked at me and said, Are you Walter's daughter?
I am. And he knew. Despite the fact that my father hasn't been here in five years, and that he'd retired another ten years before that, and even though we were fifty miles from home, still, he knew my father, and he knew the property.
But then there's this part, and I don't know what to do about it.
Now I know that these people love their little cars; I get that and I think it's great that people have hobbies. I have more than a few myself. I can even, if not truly understand I suppose, accept that there are some people who simply love old air-cooled Volkswagens without being bad people, perhaps in the same way that someone can be fascinated with the history of Hitler's rise to power without being a Nazi. I get that, and while I will never understand why on a gut level I can see that it is true.
It's when they start going on about how great my father was that I get lost.
Although I can even sort of understand that part of it, I guess. If you only knew him through the Volkswagen stuff, if you'd only come by to look at parts, or ask him about your Bug (and he was always very happy to talk and talk and talk about VWs) you might think that he was just some nice older guy who was a bit eccentric, maybe.
Well maybe. Because how could you then look around at the yard and still think that? How could you see seventy-eight cars, even if in your eyes they weren't 'junk' cars, which were obviously taking over the yard, which were everywhere, in every space they could possibly fit, along with all the car parts and all the other stuff that was obviously junk, and also, also, know that there were children there, (Are you Walter's daughter?) and not think Wow this is fucked up? I suppose I could see if the person doing the observing was also a hoarder, but so far few of the people I've had this conversation with have given me that vibe (although occasionally someone really really does).
And then what do I say to that? Yes, I'm Walter's daughter. While I'm not expecting that you should have called CPS on my father's ass, how is it that you are standing there smiling at me about all this? I just said my father was a hoarder. I even asked if you'd seen that TV show and you smiled and said yes. Are you just not thinking? I understand this is a fairly shallow conversation, and I even understand that most people are not as ridiculously introverted as I am (and so deep conversations are not the default for you as they are for me), but really? That situation was obviously fucked up, you saw it, and you are standing there telling me about how my father had all this great stuff?
Over and over that is the reaction.
So where does that leave me? The older I get, the more I recognize and acknowledge the truth of the situation here, the less tolerance I have for just smiling and nodding when people start in about how great my father was and Oh wow all those Volkswagens! The hoarding, which included all those marvelous bugs and squarebacks and fastbacks and busses and campers and 411s and 412s and even that white pickup truck and the odd MG or Spitfire or Triumph or Datsun or old Saab 95 or 96, was child neglect and abuse. Making us live in all that, because his needs came first, was child abuse.
No, it's not that his needs came first, and this is the part that is so hard to articulate and make anyone understand, it's not even that; that implies that there was a hierarchy in his mind, that he had some kind of list in his head of people's needs that he had put in order, with his own at the top. The reality is that he was incapable of seeing or imagining that other people had needs at all. I have no idea, really, how my father perceived other people. Were they simply shadows cast on a wall? Things that could be talked at? Something that makes dinner? Noise, things moving, like some TV that you couldn't turn off? Something that's always trying to take his money? I honestly don't know. I really don't. Can someone tell me?
If I try to tell people well no actually you don't understand about him, he was a hoarder, it was hell growing up in that house, he was profoundly mentally ill, and this last one, that he was 'profoundly mentally ill' was an exact quote to this guy I was talking to on Saturday, it just gets glossed over. Like I said I understand a conversation with me sometimes, because I am so stunningly introverted, can be like wading into the shallows and suddenly stepping into the Mariana Trench. I get that. But they just nod and continue the conversation. I don't know what to do.
But that's the thing. I can't not say something. I can't just smile and nod when they go on about my father. I don't, really, I don't think, want to make someone feel bad, to grab them with a gotcha, to imply they are enabling something, glossing over child abuse like that; but at the same time, not saying anything is for me just more invalidation. It's me keeping silent, once again, as I always did.
I was trying to think the other day about what my father said that was so invalidating. And I couldn't really come up with anything. My mother, sure, oh I could think of plenty she said, but my father, no, I was coming up blank. And yet the almost overwhelming feeling I have of him is of invalidation.
He didn't need to say anything, that's the thing. Everything he did was invalidating to the people around him, his family. He didn't need to tell us we didn't deserve hot water; his adamant refusal to install the water heater until he did X, Y, and Z was invalidation enough. Especially since his reasoning was all couched in terms of his rights, not just what he wanted, but his rights; that he didn't have to, we couldn't make him, we didn't have the right to make him. And that is telling us that we didn't have the right to hot water, that we didn't ever have the right to be comfortable, to heat, to running water, to a yard not full of cars, to not be publicly humiliated (because everyone knew the yard was a junkyard), to have friends over, to have enough to eat, to be warm in winter, to have the lights on in a room with the window open in summer because the bugs could get in with the crappy screens we had, to eat in peace, to dislike certain foods, to have a closet to hang our clothes in, to get a gift that was our own; and anything we did get from him (and it was all from him, as he was the one with a job) was always so grudgingly given, couched in terms of how we should be grateful for getting even that and never forget that he was always entitled to a piece of it as he paid for it.
And still, when I mention any of that, these acquaintances who knew my father as the VW guy still stand there and smile and talk about how great my father was, as if they knew him better than I did. When I try to explain most of them just don't want to hear it. I know we have a problem with dealing with child abuse in this society. I do honestly think has its roots in that this society counts on certain kinds of inequality to function, and so not only wants to look the other way but must. I really do believe that. So nobody wants to hear it, to the point where most people out there will make excuse after excuse for abusers, even the really violent ones, oh he was such a nice guy when I saw him at the coffee shop, blah blah blah. But I just want to scream:
Dude. I knew my father. You didn't. You chatted with him about a mutual 'hobby'. You are making a whole lot of assumptions about him probably based in your own motivations, in your own way of doing things, assuming that he thought about things the same way you do and because you believe yourself to be a good person my father must have been one as well. And then when I say Well no he wasn't you don't want to listen. Do you know what you are saying then? You are saying that you who chatted with my father over a hobby knew him better than I did. Can you not see how stupid, how belittling, how arrogant that is? How profoundly invalidating that is of my own miserable experiences?
I don't blame you, I don't. I understand you don't want to hear it. But it is true, and I lived it.
I just don't know what to do with that.