A Tribute to Anne

California, early 1940’s.

Remembering my mother,

Anne Draffkorn Rains,

on the day of her birth.

She was quite something,

and I mean that statement in all possible ways.




As I begin to write My Life In Horsepower, it’s appropriate to include a story from Mother’s automotive history. This memoir recently appeared in the Alleghany News, Sparta, North Carolina.

The Story of Big Blue

She was long and lean, and ran like the wind. Mother loved her. Daddy loved her too. She was a 1967 Chrysler Newport Custom.

Photo taken in October, 1988. Mother wanted to hand Big Blue over to me, but had to visit my house in Philadelphia to be sure the garage was suitable before she gave me the keys.

Daddy ordered the Chrysler the year I got married. He bought fleet cars from the dealer in Huntington, West Virginia, and told the owner he wanted something special for my mother. It was meant to soothe her mood in advance of my impending nuptials. Neither parent approved of my marriage for many valid reasons, one of them being I was only nineteen. Mother was distraught. Daddy was resigned, but both knew they couldn’t change my mind. To give her something to smile about, he ordered the car. Navy blue, black interior, black vinyl top. He called her, “Big Blue.”

I should note here that when my parents met in the 30’s, Daddy owned a little roadster convertible with a rumble seat. I’m not sure if it made him more attractive to her, but it sure didn’t hurt. It was a common bond. Mother loved the status and freedom that an automobile provided. Daddy just liked to drive.

Mother loved all material things, but especially cars. As a child of the Depression, owning a car was more than mere transportation. Many of her favorite stories included a car as one of the regular characters. “Pauline, Joe, and I took the Buick for a run up to the cabin.” Most old photos taken at outings included a vehicle somewhere in the scene. And so it became with Mother and Big Blue.

Blue took her through snowstorms that kept other cars marooned, and through rain storms that had other cars fishtailing off the pavement. She also transported visiting relatives to the funeral when Daddy died suddenly from a heart attack. Such was the partnership between my mother and that car, even at the age of 76, she felt the confidence to drive solo from Huntington to Columbus, Ohio, for regular visits after Laura and I moved.

Their partnership went on for years, but as much as Mother loved the car, she was also realistic. Blue was 18 years old now, and she decided only one of the pair could have chronic creaks, mysterious leaks, and trouble revving up in the morning.

She went back to the same Chrysler dealership, found the son of the owner who sold the car to Daddy, and drove away in a new Dodge Diplomat with all the bells and whistles. And Blue? She stayed at the dealership in storage as part of the deal…for free…for three years. Mother was a good negotiator.

Blue’s next home was with me, where she stayed until 2003. I took her on sales calls and country drives. After Melvin and I married, Blue went to car shows and rallys. She had a custom car cover and was always in a garage. I promised Mother I wouldn’t sell Blue while she was alive. I kept my promise. There was, however, no promise on who would be the next owner.

In the end, after 36 years of service to our family, I handed over to keys to three young men who talked about speakers in the trunk and flames along the sides. They said it was going to be, “one phat ride.” At that moment I heard the ashes in Mother’s urn puff, and felt Daddy do a twirl in his Indiana grave. I was reminded again of all the ways an automobile becomes more than just transportation, and how the love affair with automobiles continues because there will always be someone who loves the status and freedom, and someone who just loves to drive.

My Life In Horsepower

In the novel, A Man Called Ove, the lead character marks the phases of his life by the car he was driving at the time. For him it was always a Volvo, sometimes a sedan, or a hatchback, or a wagon.

My life in horsepower has not been brand loyal like Ove. I’ve gone from American to Japanese, to Swedish, then German, and back to American. My 2008 gold Subaru Outback was my most faithful steed, with  four-wheel drive that me feel fearless, and capacity that allowed us to pack it to the max. When Melvin and I left Cape Breton, the Subaru was packed up to the dashboard and hauled back to Georgia on a trailer behind the truck.

That was 10 years ago. With our future filled with daytrips, side trips, and long distance road excursions, Melvin decided it was time to trade. He wanted a little more comfort and a few bells and whistles, so the Subaru stayed on the dealer’s lot and the Ford Fusion came home.

With my new ride, Fonda deFord. Just like any other 4-door, white sedan, except Fonda sports the writer’s words of warning in the back window!


My biggest regret. I forgot to take the CD’s out of the player. By the time I realized it, the car was already gone to the next owner. So, a shout-out to the Saint Joe Class of 1965. Anyone out there willing to burn a set of the 50th Reunion mix for me?

Nothing can beat that hand-picked selection of music compiled by Dean Daniels, (grad by marriage to classmate Linda Kemper.) This group of CD’s is a time capsule of song capturing our days of house parties, school dances, and transistor radios tuned to WKEE Radio.  Ive been behind the wheel for over 50 years. Some of those wheels have been standard, some automatic. Some luxurious, some with jammed doors and may-pop tires.

But, no matter where I am and what I’m driving, when I hear Louie Louie, my mind circles back to the first Ford.

It was a red Mustang convertible, 1964 ½ .