When I turned 16, I received our family’s 1962 Ford Galaxie as my first car. The vehicle was nearly seven years old and had more than 100,000 miles of wear. It couldn’t have been less cool. A four-door with red plaid bench seats, it was white except for a little rust behind the rear wheels, and it had a puny six-cylinder engine that could barely drag the behemoth-of-a-car down the road. Dubbed “the white whale” by my friends, it was quite possibly the least admired car in the high school parking lot. Still, I had hope for the car.
I spent my junior and senior years trying to turn the white whale into something it wasn’t—a cool ride. I sanded, primed and painted the rust spots, removed the gaudy Ford hub caps and replaced them with chrome baby moons. I moved the three-speed gearshift from the steering column onto the floor and raised the sagging rear end with a lift kit. As a final touch, I added a reverberation unit and rear-mounted speakers to the AM radio, making the “over and over” part of Tommy James’ Crimson and Clover echo throughout the car. I was proud of the improvements, but in the end, a ‘62 Ford Galaxie was never going to be a ‘69 Chevelle SS. Even when it was new, the Galaxie wasn’t a cool ride. How could it be? The police car driven by Barney Fife on the Andy Griffith show was a ‘62 Galaxie.
Somehow, I made it through my high school years in spite of my vehicle. In a way, that car made me stronger. I had friends, even girlfriends, and matriculated to college on schedule, unimpaired. Unlike other teens whose identities were formed by their vehicles, my car never defined me. I focused on sports, hanging with my friends, and studying just enough to get into college. I retired the white whale a few years later, trading it in for a late-model Mustang. It was sad seeing it sitting on the lot as I drove away in my new car, but it had served its purpose.
In many ways, I’ve become that ‘62 Ford Galaxie. Now 62 years old, my body has years of wear and a little rust around the edges. I find myself spending a fair amount of time and money patching myself together. I do whatever I can to fight the forces of gravity, but like the white whale, my sagging frame could use a lift kit. I don’t have the option of trading in my aging body for a newer model, but I can choose not to have my age define me. My wife Claudia and I avoid standing still. We hike, garden, golf, and travel. After retiring, I took up writing and have self-published several novels with the help of Claudia as my editor. Our friends, families, and community activities keep our calendar full.
Like they say, “Sixty is the new forty.” They (whoever they are) probably aren’t referring to appearance, but more to the way sixty-plus people think and act. Sixty is younger than it’s ever been. Just during my lifetime, the life expectancy of U.S. men has risen nearly ten years--to 79¸ and a 65-year-old today will on average live another 20 years. With 10,000 people turning 65 every day in the U.S, we are a force.
These stats indicate my body has a lot of mileage left, so I’d better take good care of it. If only there was a way I could add a reverberation unit.