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My Mom

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Topics:  Hyundai Excel
Opinions expressed by Bill Crittenden are not official policies or positions of The Crittenden Automotive Library. You can read more about the Library's goals, mission, policies, and operations on the About Us page.

My Mom

Bill Crittenden
May 12, 2013

I have so many stories about my mother, but since this is a place for car stories, this is how my mother influenced not only what I drove but who I am today.

Technically, I wasn't supposed to be driving yet.  My learner's permit was warm off the printer and I had been waiting for years to get behind the wheel, so my dad took me to an empty parking lot, had me sit behind the wheel of the family's 1995 Plymouth Neon, had me put it in drive and ease my foot off the brake.

I still remember the feeling today.

It was pretty basic.  Left turn, right turn.  Give it some gas.  Stop.  Hey, the car's still in one piece, let's get dinner!  Time for dad to drive home.

The next day my mom took me to Kmart for some of the weekly shopping, and in the parking lot, before we went into the store, she let me drive her car.  This was a bit different, a light blue stick shift 1988 Hyundai Excel sedan.  Say what you will about its anemic power now, to a kid with all of 5 minutes driving time on his record, it's still enough to get stupid, and with those thin little doors between the passengers and the parking lot light poles, it wouldn't have taken much speed to endanger life and limb, anyway.

Of course my mom needed to explain what the clutch pedal did, and when she tried to explain how to time lifting off the gas while pressing the clutch, this impatient teenager mentioned that I already knew how to do that from watching Days of Thunder.

So after the car got rolling, and I figured out shifting into second, my mom did something quite out of character.

My mom, Nelda, was from a very different generation.  Born just before the baby boomers, I don't think I understood what "mom jeans" were growing up because my mom never wore them.  The house was a world of doilies and ducks, a traditional china cabinet and flowered wallpaper.

So I wasn't quite expecting to hear her explanation of turning a car sound like it came from Bob Bondurant's school.  Start the turn wide, brake late and brake hard, accelerate off the apex of the turn, that sort of thing.

Soon we were tearing back and forth behind the store at 40 miles an hour and cornering like I was on a stopwatch with a time to beat.

Which made so much sense years later, when I found out that she and her sister had done some kind of rallying in their 1967 Mustang fastback long before the family life I knew her from.

You just never know what fun little secrets about their pre-family lives that moms never get around to telling their kids until they're reminded of or asked about it!

Of course, no matter how many times I bounced from one career aspiration to the next, my mom always supported me without hesitation, and it's because of my mom (and dad, of course) that I was able to go through my automotive education after high school and then continue on to regular community college when I wasn't quick enough to keep up with labor book times.

She is also why Oldsmobiles mean so much to me.  The earliest car I can remember was her white-on-maroon vinyl 1978 Delta 88 station wagon, and then the 1986-ish Regency Brougham that she drove me to school in during the 6th grade.

Of course when I needed a cheap car and found a 1985 Cutlass Ciera with a vinyl top for $1,000, I knew I had to have it.

And I'd drive any of those three cars again, if I had the chance.

That 1988 Excel led to a 1997 Accent to replace it, and then I had move on as well to get a 1997 Accent GT of my own.  Since then my brother has bought himself a Tiburon and I've become a tireless advocate for the brand to anyone who will listen.  Needless to say, that car did not impress my future father-in-law, but 12 years and the release of the Equus later, he said he'd consider buying a Hyundai.  Success!

No relationship is perfect, though, and we did have a few years where we actually weren't speaking just after I got married.  It was because of this loss of connection that my son has the Walczak last name, but after we patched things up and I didn't have another child to carry on the family name I had started to consider leaving a legacy of the name in other ways.

That's part of the reason why the Crittenden name means so very much to me in connection with this Library I'm building.  Now I get to turn the education and experiences my parents provided me into something that could, someday, change the way "car guys" around the world do research on automobiles.

Their influence is also why the Library's focus isn't on just the top levels of racing or the most popular performance cars.  Cars were always so much more to me than the superstars and supercars we see on TV.  It's special moments with special people, like the time my mom taught me pretty much everything about driving short of heel-and-toe in a worn-out 1988 Excel.

Funny side story: in the years we were apart I wore sweater vests and was looking toward a more "office professional" type of job, and being the fan of Hyundais I had set my heart on a dark grey XG300L (the first year it was the XG300, subsequent years it was the XG350 with a bigger engine).  Then came the one night I finally came home, to talk in person for the first time in years, and what was sitting in her spot in the garage?  A dark gray XG350L.

I just wish she could see what I've been up to lately.  She's been gone two years now, and next to my desk is a little box in Christmas wrapping paper.  It was a very difficult year at work, and I was pushing so much into the Library because the extra ad money made me feel better about maybe someday working on my own.  I just never could find time to get back home, thinking I could have all the time on the world if I just worked like crazy first, but then it was suddenly too late.

Perhaps that's why I'm not getting as much done on the Library as I used to.  That box reminds me that there's so much more to life than making money.  It was probably that realization that turned my efforts from commercially popular topics like NASCAR & chasing short-term page views for ad money, and instead slowly building something more substantial.  Sure, when I have a rough work week I can get a little worried and plant myself in front of the computer in hopes of finding that spark that gets me a million page views and serious income.  But sometimes I even look just to enjoy cruise nights without seeing them only through the viewscreen on a digital camera.  I've spent more time with my son, remodeled a few rooms of the house, organized most of my collection of car stuff, and kept up on a few TV shows.  And I get a lot more sleep than I used to.

Sure, money still matters, but only in the context of how it can help us create the moments that make life special.  Sure, that's taken the competitive edge off of how I work, but I'm so much happier now than when I was worried about things that really don't matter in the big picture.

And I've come to fully appreciate the power of nostalgia and the joys of the things that remind us of happier times...

Most people don't realize that one of my "dream cars" would be to find a still-running light blue '88 Excel sedan and turn it into a track day car.  Driving that car on a real track, regardless of actual lap times (anyone have a sundial?), would mean more to me than driving any Porsche on a track ever could.

So if anyone knows of a light blue '88 Excel sedan for sale, stick shift only, let me know.

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