Painting the car

Pontiac Astre


The house was painted salmon. Too dark to be pink or fushia. It was salmon-coloured. With a white trim.

Other than that, the house essentially look the same as the house five other five houses on the block.

It was No. 6, next door to number 4. There was no Number 2. There was no number 1 or 3 for awhile either. A Betty Smith’s Fried Chicken place had moved in to abandoned building at the start of the street and stayed there for 2 years until a health inspector shut the owners down for allowing a mouse to fall into a cooker full of peanut oil during his unannounced visit. So for awhile, Neil Butler Blvd had a number 1, but when Betty Smith’s shut it doors, it went back to starting with No. 4, then 5 across the street, then back to the Durdle place at No. 6 and so on.

The houses on the even side of Neil Butler Blvd were all “company homes” built by the iron ore company that ran the roost in New Chelsea for many of first 50 years of the 20th century. Not quite the Salt Box design that dominated New Chelsea’s architectural landscape but more nuanced with sloping rooves on the second storey, which outside looked well-enough but instead created a somewhat cramped environment in the second floor bedrooms.

Of the six company homes, 3 were painted white with black trim, except No. 12 which a brown trim. No. 14 was a vivid vermillion with black trim. No. 8 was royal blue with a white trim.

And No. 6 was salmon. With salmon trim. The paint had been on sale at the time of its purchase.

When a family of 5 are attempting to live on one modest salary, choice yields to necessity in many cases. For example, the family car.

In 1979, the Pontiac Astre was showing signs of having lived a much tougher existance its five years had actually seen. The bottom half of the doors, fenders and wheel wells were rusted through from a combination of poor steel and salt-coated roads to prevent slipping and road accidents.

It’s lime-green exterior and forest green interior were not the most attractive of combinations even by the standards of the 1970’s, such as they were. There were two attractive propositions made by this lime-green Astre in 1974 to Ray Durdle. First of all, it’s cheapness. And second of all, it was ready. He didn’t test drive it, although he allowed the salesman to drive him around in it, politely nodding and “Oh yes”-ing when told what a tremendous value the 1974 Astre would be. In its hatchback design, the care even proved its worth as an early SUV-style machine when he allowed the Durdle family to bring home a new roll of carpet for the front room and then a couple months later, a 27-inch floor model colour TV from the Admiral dealer downtown.

Winston always liked two things about the Astre. The two narrow strips of rear-lamps on either side of the back which was sort of sporty but made him think the guy might yet have a life in it as the go-to vehicle for a detective on TV. And he liked the fact the rear seat folded down and in Winston’s mind created a kind of play area, similar to the carpeted section in his kindergarten class some years before, where he took his afternoon nap.

This summer of ’79, the Durdle home were trying to achieve two things. Finish the verandah leading away from the front door. The platform and steps were done but it still needed the roof. That was plenty for one summer off from teaching school for Ray but the desperate shape of the Astre’s under-side just weren’t going to last this next winter. And it didn’t seem likely to afford a new car so a temporary fix was needed.

Ray and Winston’s grandfather, Clifton set about both tasks with Clifton handling most of the verandah duties and Ray tackling the car. Ray had cut away most of the offending rusted out door panel and fenders. Now to sort out replacing the affected area.

He stolled down to the Bickfords Hardware in Town Square, once a hub for New Chealsea but with Mall developments in the late 60’s, now a shell. Old Ted Bickford’s son, Wayne, ran the place and Ray walked straight up to him.

“Listen, Wayne, I’m looking for some aluminum flashing.”

“B’y, I think all we got is the piping,” Wayne said. “I can order you in some.”

“How much is it?” Ray asked.

“I think the flashing is 2-twenty a square foot.”

“What’s the piping?”

“That’s probably 1-eighty, I think. How much you need?”

“I suppose,” Ray calculated, “15, 20 square feet.”

“I can have the flashing in by the week-end.”

“Nah, b’y,” Ray said. “I’ll take the piping.”

So, Ray headed home with the aluminum piping and when he got there, Clifton looked at him like he had a hundred heads.

“What’s the piping for?”

“We’ll cut into lengths and and flatten it out,” Ray declared.

“Tch, yer fullish,” Clifton countered. “That’s goin’ take a dog’s age.”

“Nah, b’y, it’s no time.”

Two days later, various pieces of 1-sq-foot aluminum “tiles” were scattered around the Astre ready to be attached. A bunch of round-head Phillps screws were acquired to fasten the tiles to the main body of the car. The tiles were doubled up to make the patch more durable. Slowly, the pieces started to skirt the vehicle, tapped and hammered into place with more more round head screws fastening the pieces together. Eventually, the Astre was no longer rusted out along the bottom and was now one-third aluminum. The slightly raised profile of the screws gave the whole machine a slightly early-days-of-flight characteristic, although Howard Hughes himself might have took pity on the scene and offered to pay for screws that would have created a more flush appearance.

But more importantly, it was done. Or at least phase one was done. Ray didn’t much care for the raised profile of the screws eventually and he went to Bickfords to pick up some silicon caulking to seal gaps in the aluminum tiling and to run over the various screws, evening out the appearance. A coat of pink rust paint was spread over the whole area and now a 1974 Pontiac Astre, one-third pink in colour, two-thirds lime-green sat in the front yard. Phase Two complete.

Ray and Clifton gave the car a couple days to aloow their handiwork to dry and harden. As that went on, they continued their work on the verandah.

For the most part, Winston and Ray, Jr were kept out of the way of the goings on outside. Ettie May was always protective of her kids and if they went out their in the yard with all the car stuff and building materials around, she was convince one othem would get a nail in the foot or the car would fall off the blocks it was on and pin them them like it did to her father when she was a little girl and Clifton hadn’t watched what he was doing nor had secured the car safely on the blocks and the Vauxhall he drove slipped off and pinned him for a time until her two brothers showed up to lift the car off him. And if not that, then something.

But curiousity can be a undeniable force and Winston wanted to see what was happening to the Astre. He made an amateur study of car models based on the ads he saw on TV. He could name any car on the road as they drove by with his favourite being a Ford Torino, especially the model driven by Starsky and Hutch.

When he got outside to have a look at the car, and after he got over the abrupt site of the pink and lime-green fusilage in the yard, he started to see possibility. His father mentioned that the car would get repainted. To Winston’s estimation, it was the perfect time to paint the car.

Paint it red. Fire-engine red.

With a white stripe setting out from a definite point, across the driver’s side fender and door, smoothly taking a left to continue up the panel behind the rear window, strolling directly across the roof to see the potential that lay in a descent paralell to its ascent before taking another left and mirroring the stripe it presented on the other side, the flash of white concluded in sharp focus on the passenger side fender.

Paint the Pontiac Astre to look like Starsky and Hutch’s car.

“Look, I picked up a couple of gallons of the orange semi-gloss on sale,” Ray trumpted. “Mr. Jarvis, clean those brushes and we’ll get this done today.”

Disappointed, Winston watched his father carefully stroke the curves of the Pontiac Astre after dipping the brush in the bucket of orange, oil-based, semi-gloss. His grand-father put his saw and some two-by-fours he was cutting down next to the saw-horse and he picked up the roller on the long stick to do the roof and the bonnet. Two coats should do it.

Winston asked if he could help paint. He had never done that before and it seemed easy enough. But his father said no, this was going to be tricky enough. He reached out to touch the orange paint, as if to see if this colour was really going on but all he got was the wet paint on his fingers.

His father yelled at him. “Don’t go touching the wet paint, b’y. You’ll get that all over yourself!”

Ettie May, who’d rushed out the clothlines to take in some pillowcases and a sheet she hung out earlier, heard Ray yell at the Winston. She’d only meant to come out to the line for a minute because she had Aunt Frone on the telephone in the house. She slipped on a pair of Ray’s shoes because she couldn’t find her own.

Ettie May left the pillowcases in the basket and rushed over to see what trouble her son was causing. She should have never let him out when they were painting. She knew he’d be into something. She still wasn’t that steady on the new step they’d installed from the verandah and as she hurried toward the car she was off balance. The over-sized 11’s she wore didn’t help and as she started to say, “Winston, are you bothering…” she fell and she reached out to brace for the ground.

Her left hand found the saw Clifton had left unattended. The shock of falling was enough. When Ettie May looked at the saw imbedded in her flesh. The blood poured out in a way that less than might be expected but more that one could possibly imagine.

Ray ran for the clothsline and grabbed the sheet. He immediately started wrapping around Ettie May’s hand. He shouted at Clifton to call for the ambulance at the hospital just blocks away and it arrived minutes.

“It’s bleeding so much, Ray,” she half-sobbed.

“It’s alright, Ettie, the ambulance is coming.” He tried to make the sheet tighter, but there was so much matrial, it just soaked up more blood.

“I can’t go to the hospital like this, Ray,” Ettie pleaded, thinking her house clothes and his shoes were not fit for the people there to see. “Please, Ray, get me another blouse. I can’t go like this, Ray…”

Winston knew something was wrong but paralyzed. He knew his mother was in trouble but he was paralyzed. He wanted to help but he was paralyzed.

He watched her be helped up into the back of the ambulance by the men. He heard his father re-assure his mother that he was there and that he was coming with her. That’s the last thing he heard him say before the ambulance drove away. He stood next to the mostly orange Pontiac Astre and tried to take it what just happened.

Clifton came out of the house. He looked at the pile of two-by-fours. He picked up and hucked towards the back yard.

Ray Jr came out of the house after him, and his grandfather asked him to help push all the stuff for the verandah back towards the house. Winston still didn’t move.

“This is your fault,” Clifton said. “Yer mudder’s gonna have no hand now, coz of you.”

Winston stood still.