Don’t ask me why I have zero pictures of my first car, a 1980 Ford Fairmont that my parents bought for my 20th birthday in February 1981, when I was a sophomore at Texas A&M. Who the heck doesn’t take photos — lots of them — of their first car?
I came home from school for my birthday, which fell on a Saturday that year, and Dad told me to come out to the garage. I walked through the breezeway from our house in Oak Ridge North, south of Conroe and 30 miles north of Houston, opened the garage door and was stunned to see a baby blue car with dark blue vinyl roof where Mom’s blue Oldsmobile Toronado was usually parked.
Of course, I had no idea what make or model it was. On the windshield was a piece of white cardboard from one of Dad’s sample boxes from his job as a lingerie salesman for Hollywood Vassarette. On it, he’d written in all caps:
I really couldn’t believe they’d bought me a car. One I didn’t have to make any payments on; all I had to do was buy the gas and take care of it. It came from Max Mahaffey Ford, the dealership owned by two of my Conroe High friends, bandmate Scott, who graduated the year before me, and his sister Jan, who graduated with me.
Kay and I were Googling last night and found this photo, and this is the car I had. Not exactly a chick magnet, but I loved it. It was a stick shift, and my brother Isaac — who had learned to drive manual on Dad’s ’70s brown Pinto hatchback that Isaac rebuilt the engine on — took me to the old McCullough High parking lot in The Woodlands to teach me how to drive it.
We all endured a multitude of hardships with Mom’s abusive, destructive behavior, but one thing she deprived me of was taking driver’s ed — she never seemed to come to terms with the fact that I was growing up, despite being a year younger than all of my classmates.
So, Dad had to teach me how to drive without her knowing, and in August 1979 on the day he took me to A&M to move into my dorm, Moore Hall, we stopped at the DPS office in Conroe so I could take my driving test. I’ll always love him for that, and for the things he did to try to make life a bit less painful for his sons. I just wish he’d done more.
Needless to say, when Dad bought that Fairmont a year and a half later — I’m quite sure it was his idea, not Mom’s (and she probably needed convincing) — I was SO ready to finally have my own car.
This Fairmont got me through my last 2 years of college, nearly 4 years of my first job as an Odessa American sports writer driving all across dry, desolate West Texas, and through my first couple of years at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram until I traded it in 1989 for an Aggie maroon Nissan pickup — another manual transmission.
I always had a blast driving stick. The first car Kay and I bought after we married in ’94 was a manual Geo Prism (I know, what were we thinking?), trading in her beloved ’83 Toyota Celica (her first car — a stick, too). I later traded my pickup — which was totaled in the historic Fort Worth hailstorm on May 5, 1995, but I drove it another 4 years — for a manual Mazda Protege. We finally bought our first automatic in 2003 — Kay’s Honda Accord, which we kept until trading it in 2016 for a Subaru Forester.
Anyway, this Fairmont (well, not *this* one, but a duplicate!) will always be special to me, even if it wasn’t exactly a looker!