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A CAR NAMED HERMAN


Ghia 3The first Karmann Ghia I ever saw was a classy little red job my aunt and uncle bought in Germany and had shipped to the States. I was smitten, and when a shiny yellow Karmann Ghia took up residence in my garage several years later, I thought I had died and gone to heaven. I promptly named him Herman, and happily drove him for twenty years.

The Italians had given the car its cool sports car look; sort of a Porsche, but without the speed. It was made between 1955 and 1974, and a mechanical dimwit could maintain it. I delighted in putting him in the driveway while I polished him, changed the oil and cleaned the engine. That was the extent of my automotive knowledge, except I knew where the gas tank was. The company made only a few colors, and Herman was Manila Yellow. I remember the red, which first captured my heart, and a dark green, but I don’t recall the other colors.

It had only two seats in front, but a very small platform opened down in the back for groceries, dogs or whatever. The gears were four-on-the-floor and let’s admit that Herman wasn’t comfortable going over 80 MPH.

My husband was transferred to Seattle in June of 1969, and I drove Herman to Kirkland, where we would be living, with a cat and his litter box on the back seat, while Dr. Advice took two rather well-behaved dogs with him in his car; a Chihuahua and a pregnant Dachshund. Surely a sign of male superiority, as he probably had the easier job controlling the dogs.

Together Herman and I explored every part of Seattle and its environs during the five years we lived there, while our daughter attended the University of Washington and Dr. Advice explored Alaska and its environs.

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Both dogs who had made the journey with us died during the time we were there, and then we were acquired by Liza, a wonderful eight week old German Shepherd Dog. She seriously did choose us. As we were scrambling around in the breeder’s barn trying to get the attention of another puppy, the very large gruff German lady who owned the kennel growled “Vat are you doing?” I pointed out the pup that we wanted, and she practically yelled “But THAT’S the one that wants you”

We took her home to live with us, and named her Heidi. She whined pitifully all night long so we changed her name to Eliza Doolittle. She never left my side the rest of her life, riding proudly in the front seat of the yellow Karmann Ghia wherever I went.

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A few months after we arrived in Kirkland, it snowed. I had never driven in snow or ice, but I had a tennis lesson in an indoor court in Everett, a town about twenty miles north, so Herman and I braved the weather and set off. It’s amazing how nothing looks the same under a thick blanket of snow, but we finally made it to Everett and the tennis lesson.

Seattle does not get identifiable snow every year, but it does freeze regularly in winter. One such morning I was ready to leave the garage, only to find that the macadam driveway had frozen and risen an inch or two, preventing one of the garage doors to open.

It was a double garage with two separate doors both opening outward, and Herman was a very small car, so I jockeyed him back and forth a number of times thinking I would then simply drive out the operational door.

To my horror, Herman got stuck sideways and refused to move again. Dr. Advice was on a business trip and I knew no one. We lived in the country, with no neighbors, so I was literally “stuck”.

When our daughter came home that afternoon and saw our predicament, she called several football players she knew, who simply lifted Herman off the ground and set him right! And yes, I would have to say that was male superiority!

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We returned to the Bay Area in 1974, and Herman and I traveled our old routes once more, this time with a large German Shepherd Dog riding shotgun.

Two small grandson had joined our family, and a few years later, I was invited by one of them to come do a demo for his school class in Scotts Valley. We did small clay dragons which I took home to dry before firing them, but before that I stopped and had lunch with my daughter at Pasatiempo where they lived.

That afternoon, while driving on the freeway, I was stopped for speeding. Worried that the little sculptures would dry too fast, I told the officer, “If you’re going to give me a ticket, please hurry up and do it, because there are 29 dragons drying in the back seat as we speak.” After looking into the back seat, he gave me the ticket.

That evening my daughter called and asked how my afternoon had been. When I assured her that it was fine, she said “Mom! I saw you pulled over at the side of the road. How fast were you going anyway?” When she heard it was only 75 MPH, she laughed and repeated it to her husband, whom I heard in the background saying “Geesh, I didn’t know that thing would go that fast!”

Herman suffered the same fate as most of us—he just plain wore out. When he left our garage for good, our 10 year old grandson said “I always though I’d drive him to college.”

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11 comments on “A CAR NAMED HERMAN

  1. Kayti, this is one of the best. I was hoping that at the end you had written that Herman was still part of the family. I am very sentimental about many things and vehicles that are special seem to be a part of who we are. I know that is past loopy but I still have my 78 Bronco which is the only vehicle my husband ever gave me. The last person to drive my Bronco was my husband and I need to get him moved out of the weather.   Anyhow, I got a lump in my throat after reading that your grandson said, “I always thought I’d drive Herman to college.” I bet in some ways you wish that you had kept Herman and simply fixed him up to be driven during special times.

     ~yvonne~

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    • I’ve had a couple of cars since Herman, one was a darling 560SL Mercedes which I had dreamed of since Herman, I even briefly named it Herman 11, but it didn’t seem right and I felt foolish calling it by that name.  It didn’t hold a candle to that little yellow bomb.  I still feel if I saw one for sale I’d buy it and fix it up.  Coulda, woulda, shoulda.   Certain things like certain people become very important to our lives.

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  2. What a wonderful tale – especially the part about the young men who “set you straight”. Well, and the policeman. I do wonder what he thought about those dragons. At least he let you get on your way, even if you did get the ticket.

    I’m a car-namer, too. My first was one of those forest green VW beetles. I named him Mephistopheles, because he was a devil of a car. My last one was Omi, because every time I got home without something breaking down on it, I’d sigh with relief and say, “Oh, my!”

    But now I have Princess – a brand new, honey colored Toyota Corolla. It’s wonderful to be able to hit the road without worrying that I’ll not get where I’m going!

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    • Lovely to meet someone who thinks as I do!  Omi is a great name.  I sold the Mercedes for a Honda after I ran out of gas daily and the price went up!  It’s comfortable and reliable, that’s all I have to say about it, and I’ll not be writing a story about it either!

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  3. Gosh, that brings back memories. My first year at college, I had a roommate who had a Karmann Ghia (yellow). She was a smart girl, but a little scattered. The car had an auxiliary gas tank, so my roommate wouldn’t worry at all about running out of gas. She just switched over to the auxiliary tank. It quite often happened that she still didn’t worry about running out of gas and when the auxiliary tank ran out, she was really stuck. I don’t remember any football players carrying it around, though! Great story.

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    • I never thought of an auxiliary gas tank!  What a great idea.  She sounds a bit like me at that age though.  aybe still a bit scattered! ha ha.  On another occasion, in another car, I managed to get stuck in a snow bank at Big Bear, and called on several big guys to push me out.  We do need all that muscle!

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  4. Your story took me back to many times in your life. It also reminded me of my two MGB’s, the British racing green ’65 and the baby yellow ’67.

    It must be time for me to find a little British car. I am such a sucker for them.

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    • What a nice feeling close association is–I remember all those British cars, plus a Jeep.  Plus an unexpected visit into the family room from the garage. OOPS!  We’re getting sentimental!!   I’d go back any time to those old days.

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  5. What a beautiful car, we had a VW Variant then several morris minors including a traveller (shooting brake). They were great characters, always quickly forgiven on the many occasions that they broke down and most importantly always made people smile.

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  6. Beautiful car, beautiful memories. I drive an Italian-designed car too … can’t beat the Italians for style xx

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