What do my grandparents have to do with wind in my hair?

A 1960s gold Plymouth Valiant convertible. My first memory of riding in a car. Top down, sun on my shoulders, wind whipping my hair into my eyes and mouth … pure joy. So, even though I work to design places for walking, biking, and bussing, I still have a soft spot for cars.

That car took us to the pool on summer days in Chapel Hill, where we climbed out of the backseat onto scalding-hot asphalt and ran from shadow to white stripe trying to save our bare feet from blisters.

That car had floorboards rusted through from Henry leaving the top down through too many summer showers. We dropped pennies through the holes and watched the road for the giant blue tarheels painted on the ascent up to the University, and my grandparent’s house.

That car meant summer and laughter and love. Henry’s dog Fidel sat in the front seat when Henry drove. When Felicité drove the summer she got a perm, college boys whistled from behind us, and laughed when she turned with a big wink as they passed to get a better look.

That car was flattened in Hurricane Hugo, sitting in Felicité’s neighbor’s driveway. She gave it to him for all his help with her house and health as she got older.

There were other convertibles.

The bronze 1982 VW Rabbit I learned to drive on. It was zippy and cute and fun to shift its 5-speed stick. I drove through the suburbs with the top down, singing “Gloria” and “Take On Me” at the top of my lungs.

The red Chrysler LeBaron my sister and Shannon and I drove to the beach topless and top-down.

The Sebring symbolizing California dreams that brought me home last night.

But the Valiant was the first. Summer and sun on my shoulders and wind in my hair will always remind me of my grandparents and siblings and convertibles … and of feeling loved.