Someone has offered my neighbour Grace a lot of money for her 1955 FJ Holden. She keeps it in a garage as big as a barn at the back of her house. She opens the garage doors wide to the morning every day as she fears mould in the upholstery.
The car hasn’t been driven for twenty five years. Not since Grace’s husband, Aldo died. It was his pride and joy. He was the first person in his family to own a car, one of the first people in our street to have a car. That FJ Holden was a big deal.
If Grace sells it to the Holden collector she will be able to afford air conditioning. Although she was born in Southern Italy she really feels the Sydney summers. It has been her dream for years to install air conditioning but she can’t afford it on her pension. She has old fans that whirr and click all night, interrupting her sleep.
But there is a problem. The car is not a transient thing. It is part of her memories, her history, the sight of it invokes feelings of a golden time in her life.
She told me of she and Aldo’s trips to the beach in the car in the 1960s. When there was no high rise and you could still see lizards and all sorts of beautiful birds in the bushland that grew almost to the shoreline.
When the water actually sparkled it was so clear and the sand was so clean it was as yellow as lightly toasted breadcrumbs sprinkled gently all around. She remembers the smell of the air, briny, crisp. It reminded her of the marketplace in her home town in Italy where people came from miles around to buy the town speciality – freshly packed anchovies in sea salt.
She shows me the little wooden box Aldo made for her decorated with shells and seaglass that she keeps in the glovebox. Her hands shake as she holds it, but her face is alive, youthful with joy. Sometimes she sits in the car and sings Aldo’s favourite song – It’s Not Unusual by Tom Jones. I have heard her sing it many times but didn’t know who she was singing it for.
Grace loves the FJ Holden but on cloudless summer days when the mercury hits forty two degrees and the drone from the cicadas is deafening, she dreams of air conditioning.
In the early hours, when only the birds are up and I am trudging through the garden and out into the laneway to go for a walk, I see her through the garage window, polishing the car with a soft cloth and humming to herself. She is remembering another life, the softness in her face is as tender as the dew strewn on the grass. She is able to travel through time because of her love. The air is full of thoughts of days gone by, thoughts which sustain her. And I wish I had the money to keep her cool in summer, so she will not have to say goodbye to that which she holds so dear.