My parents went shopping for a car on an early evening in the early 1960s, with light provided by the tail end of a sunset and the blazing overhead lamps on poles at the lot. The dealer told them the color of the station wagon they were looking at favorably was “Coral” – a delightful name that promises a natural getaway with warm breezes and cool water.
They bought it.
They took it home.
They left it in a parking space below our second-floor apartment on the campus of the college where my father taught engineering, and they went upstairs to celebrate.
The next morning was like many mornings: Cream of Wheat for me, fried egg for Dad, grapefruit for Mom, who had a svelte late-1950s figure and was determined to keep it.
Dad walked down the one flight of stairs to the back door, which faced the knot of buildings that were once a jewel in the crown of the North Shore of Long Island. Herbert Lee Pratt had built Braes in 1912, entertaining lavishly in the central ballroom with windows overlooking cascading grass terraces and Long Island Sound. The Jacobean-style mansion had been bought by the Bronx-based Webb Institute in 1947, and was now a community for students of naval architecture.
Mom walked down the one flight of stairs to the front door, which faced away from the school, toward a little play area with cherry trees ready to burst and beyond that a field that sloped down the hill, past the grape vines, to the beach.
She also faced our parking spot, and the brand new Chevy Nova wagon – and on this morning it was shockingly not coral. It was not a soft and alluring color promising escape and privacy.
It was pink.
No, it shouted pink.
A pink station wagon to propel the Wards into public. A mistake. An abomination. But now the family car for the foreseeable future. They pretended to talk about returning it.
“He told us it was coral,” Mom would say many years later, laughing lightly at what was anything but funny that early morning in the early 1960s.
“It was pink,” Dad would say, smiling just enough to seem amused, not chagrined. “We kept it anyway.”