It was the summer of 1971, when Richard and I were still 16 for a bit longer, and Marcel had already turned 17.
Back when I was 14 and just learning to drive, my Dad had bought a 1956 Plymouth Savoy, as a car for my mother, and later, for me to also use. When I got my driver’s license on my sixteenth birthday, I began driving it much more than my mother did.
Anyway, on that fateful summer day in ’71, Richard and Marcel and I were throwing the football around at about the time when my Dad left for his afternoon shift as a switchman for the CNR in Edmonton. After Dad had driven away, I took my friends into the garage and told them about how, just days before, Dad and I had spent hours replacing a passenger door on the Plymouth. They didn’t seem all that interested in what I was saying, for by the time I was finishing the story they were throwing the football at each other in the garage. At one point Marcel jumped into the front passenger seat of the Plymouth and Richard threw the football hard at Marcel’s head. But before the ball came through the opening, Marcel had quickly rolled up the window. There was a shattering of glass, and little tiny pieces were everywhere inside the car and out.
The funny thing about my Dad was that he could be all sorts of fun to be around, but when he was angry the last thing anyone wanted was to be in his orbit – let alone as the target of his wrath. Richard knew of this only by reputation – but Marcel knew, almost as well as I did, how serious a fix we were in.
I organized us into a very efficient team over the following few hours. We cleaned up the glass well enough to pile into the car and head off to the car-wrecker yard on the outskirts of the city. There I managed to find another door on a similar Plymouth model of the same year. The original car was a Savoy, with the simpler, more-pleasing curved line to the lower white panel on the doors. My Dad and I had replaced the driver’s door with a red and white door from a Plymouth Belvedere, with the zig-zag design. I managed (this time with some help from Richard and Marcel) to remove the front passenger door from the same wreck, and put that in the trunk of the car. So with both front doors replaced we ended up with a 1956 Plymouth Savoy that looked more like a Plymouth Belvedere. (See pictures below.)
The real work began after we got back to my Dad’s double garage. I had to pry the interior panel off of both the door we were taking off, and the one we were replacing it with, so as to get at the roll-down window assembly. That window and mechanism had to be carefully removed and then replaced after properly reattaching and realigning the “new door”. I had already removed the intact window assembly from the door we got from the wrecker, in the process of taking it off. All that shattered glass made for lots of cursing in the longer process of taking apart the door I was discarding.
We were all getting pretty worried as the time of my father’s return ((11:20pm) approached, and I still was not quite finished. Richard and Marcel wondered aloud what I was already thinking: “How would my old man respond to what had gone on since he left?” As it became clear we were in the home stretch I knew that my Dad would be fine with it, overall. He’d have a few stern disapproving words to say, for sure. But, he’d be pleased and impressed by the way I had learned enough from working side-by-side with him on cars, and wood-working projects, and other creations, that I could pull this off. And I hardly remember his reaction now – except to say that he was fine about it.
So, I thank you, Dad, for teaching me about resourcefulness, innovation, self-reliance and self-confidence. Your ingenuity and thorough attention to detail in almost everything you did, still inform my ways of being in the world to this day. You are missed.
Several years after the incident with the old Plymouth, I was married and living in Victoria. Marcel was in a final remission with his cancer – Hodgkin’s Disease – and he went on a quick solo road trip down the Oregon coast to California. On his hurried way back to Edmonton, he showed up unannounced one day when I was at work. He stayed overnight and left the next day. Mostly because of the car-door incident (I guess) Marcel was still of the (misguided) opinion that I could fix anything on cars. His VW Rabbit had a throttle cable problem – which I discovered more about when I checked his car. But I can still remember how disillusioned and disappointed he was when I told him he’d have to go to the dealer – or some mechanic, anyway – to have the throttle cable replaced.
Marcel tragically died at age 25, only a few months after that.
1956 Plymouth Savoy (as it looked when Mom and I first got it)
I was born in 1954. So the car was nearly as old as I was.
1956 Plymouth Belvedere.