Autumn had arrived. One of my grade-school buddies, Tommy, and I were out passing a football back and forth across the yard. The huge maples and oaks that landscaped the yards of the Chicago neighborhood that was one of the homes of my youth had set the lawns afire with their falling leaves of red, yellow and orange.
Up the street, waiting at the light where the main road crossed over the street where I lived, was a huge semi truck hauling a cargo of auto-mobiles covered with canvas shrouds. Tommy and I looked at each other and spoke as one: "NEW CARS!"
We dropped the football and jumped on our bikes and pedaled after the fast-disappearing truck as swift as our 8-year-old legs could propel us. We tailed the truck to the DeSoto dealership, which was, luckily, only about 10 blocks away. When we rode up, though, the mechanics shooed us away while they pulled the truck inside and unloaded it.
The automotive world then was an entirely different animal than what it is today. Automobiles were huge things that advertised "road-hugging weight," gasoline was comparatively cheap, and foreign cars - especially in the Chicago neighborhoods I inhabited during the late 1950s - didn't exist. The première of the new cars each fall was a major news event.
On the way home from school the next day, we saw that the windows of the dealership had been painted out with signs that proclaimed: "Coming Sept. 28! The NEW '57 DE SOTO!"
That night, as we gathered around the TV to watch Groucho Marx's "You Bet Your Life" (one of my father's favorite programs), we were teased with commercial lyrics of "It's delightful ... It's delectable ... It's De Soto!" and partial pictures of the car.
"On my way home," my father said at dinner a week later, "I noticed that the new cars are on display down the street. Wanna drive down and take a look?"
I hurriedly downed my dinner of pork chops and mashed potatoes; I even ate my creamed carrots without too much of a fuss. I was impatient to get rolling. We had to wait, though, until Pop had finished with that evening's paper and Mom had tackled the dinner dishes. Then there was my little brother, Ronnie, who had to be convinced that the trip might be interesting.
"C'mon," I cajoled, "don't ya wanna see the new cars? They might even have ice cream."
Evidently the mention of ice cream was enough to do the trick because within minutes he had his jacket on and was ready to go. Before we'd gotten two blocks away from the house, we could already see the searchlights beaming through the night sky. When we pulled up outside the dealership, you'd have thought we were in attendance at a major Hollywood movie première.
Inside, though, was the real attraction. Five new DeSotos were bathed in light as they sat on their pedestals; there were two four-doors, a station wagon, a two-door hardtop and, occupying center stage, a black Adventurer convertible.
The most startling feature of the "flight sweep" styling of the new DeSotos was their tailfins. They were as high as my head and certainly made the rounded rear fenders of my mother's old Dodge appear dated.
Who'd have guessed that in just a few short years, not only fins but DeSotos themselves would be a thing of the past?
"Look, Bob," my mother addressed my father, her eye immediately drawn to the nine-passenger Fireflite wagon, "isn't this gray-and-pink one attractive? We could put the boys in separate seats in the back and they wouldn't fight."
But Pop's eye was on the convertible. A smile crept across his face as he pictured himself cruising down the boulevard on a warm summer day with the top down and the radio playing. The salesman said it could be his for "only $5,495."
Then Ron spoiled the dream by announcing to everybody that he had to go to the bathroom. Pop loaded us all back into Mom's old Dodge, and we made the quick trip home.
Ron and I kept the shiny catalogs for a month, and every once in a while I'd catch Pop looking at the pictures of the convertibles.
I've just looked out the window and noticed that the falling leaves have begun to pile up on the lawn. I think I'll go out and look for a new DeSoto.