Flames, the first thing I noticed about the coupe was the flames. They were not the more common, symmetrical flames with perfectly defined lines and directions, one fender the same as the other, one side of the hood a mirror image of the other side. These flames looked like real fire, raging out of control, consuming the entire front of the severely modified antique Buick which had been converted into a powerful quarter mile drag racer, the long hood and the huge sweeping front fenders were engulfed and the flames were licking at the huge number thirteen painted in red, white and blue on each door, just catching the front and top edges of the numbers on fire. The entire coupe was rare and special, but the flames were a major contribution to its individuality, it was one of a kind, special beyond words, an incredible work of art on a canvas of steel, beauty that stopped you in mid thought and held your eyes captive and blocked out everything else so that you had to make a conscience effort to look away. And even then, you looked back.
I stood and stared, in love, lusting, wanting, unable to bring another thought to my mind or to speak, as if I were twice my tender age of twelve and in the presence of a beautiful bikini clad young woman giving me a come on look. Whether I was aware of it or not, I wanted this car, this car named Mattie, from the moment I first looked at it. It grabbed me and held me and threatened to pull my soul from my body.
The year was 1990 and I was twice my age. In car years. The result of being raised by my grandfather, an avid classic car and race car enthusiast, retired with the time and money and good health to enjoy his hobby to its fullest, with me tagging along, fully participating in restoration projects, overhauls and car shows as if I was a grown man. I had sat on the floor of his shop, in my diapers, and cut my baby teeth on nuts and bolts, and later, home schooled by this brilliant, personable, self-made man, doing my history lessons and my spelling exercises and math problems aloud, as we overhauled engines and sanded sheet metal preparing it for paint.
He had searched for this car for over five decades, this very car that stood in front of us now, and he would have it. For all my years with my Paw Paw, and I could remember life no other way, having been orphaned as an infant and taken in by him shortly after he was widowed by the same accident that killed my parents, he entertained me with his memories of this coupe, memories of it new, bought by his Paw Paw in 1934, and three years later, sold, traded in, his protests and tears dismissed as the misguided ramblings of a child. And then there was his, almost, lifelong vow to find it and own it, resulting in an obsession that controlled a small inner part of him for fifty four years. Now, here it was, but different, changed, no longer the antique machine he remembered but a full blown, modified, jacked up, custom painted, chopped and shaved modern hot rod. Would he still love it? Would he still right the wrong of so long ago, despite such radical changes? I loved this car, I had known it for but one minute but I dearly loved it, and for the first time, I understood my grandfather’s love for it too. And so began my quest for the same machine. I was certain that I, Joseph Raymond McClane III, would someday possess the long time object of affection and memories of the architect of my entire world, Joseph Raymond McClane Sr., or Paw Paw as I knew him.
It required no convincing from me though, that very hour we had that car on our trailer and were on our way home, filling the three hour journey with adrenaline enhanced plans for the newest addition to our stable of fine classics and hot rods. And this one would be the star of the show.
But the coupe came with passengers of its own, ghosts, residing in the car, unable to escape it, some perhaps not even wanting to, others desperate for release. And they wasted no time in extending their haunt to me, mistaking me for my grandfather as a young boy, or so I thought. In the coming days and years they would appear, semi-transparent and illusive, but definitely there. They would whisper to me, tell me their stories, take over my dreams, brush against my face and hands while I worked on the coupe. At first they frightened me, especially the widow Ferguson, but I quickly realized they were no threat to me, they were but a mysterious part of something I loved; inseparable, dug in and determined, creating a private world for me to explore and indulge and to utterly enjoy. As they shared the past with me, made me aware of their history with the coupe, I realized that I had to record it all, it was too special, and much too important to let fade away. After all, the coupe would live on forever, and someday pass to another owner, who would then be visited by some of those same ghosts, ghosts of former owners, which by then would certainly include me, and Paw Paw.
Mattie pulled me in, quick, and deep, embedded herself in my soul, and took over my life. But even when I finally realized the control she had over me, I offered no resistance. And if I learned anything from the entire experience, it was that Mattie had chosen me and she would never let me leave her, never.