En voiture !


To listen to this post in French, click below

It was Kenju’s post that set me wondering and remembering.
She wrote:

Do you remember when children used to ride in the window ledge above the back seat of cars? As a very young child, I used to love riding up there, warmed by the sun on the window. Being in motion always made me a little carsick, so climbing into the warm window ledge put me to sleep, and I could tolerate the ride without getting sick.

Well, let me tell you, I don’t remember anything of the kind. Have a look at the car below, and at its size: can you imagine a child lying there? I don’t think this is something I have ever seen in this country. I’ve seen small dogs or cats on the window ledge but never a child.

With my parents in 1954
Joseph was 47, Gitta, 45 and I was 10

Ever since I was a little girl, I have always hated riding in cars. I don’t remember my parents not having a car. The car was a luxury for many people when I was little, but to my father, it was indispensable for his work. First when they were working on open-air markets, and later on when my father travelled twice a week from Amiens and Rouen to collect items that they would sell in their Paris shop.
Sometimes, the whole family packed into the car, and we would go to Deauville where my parents had a small house with a garden. In those days, there was no motorway from Paris to Normandy and the 200 km trip took quite a long time, as we had to drive through small towns, which considerably slowed us down. On busy days, the trip could take up to three or four hours. Anyway, in those days, in my child’s perception of time, one hour in the car was sheer torture. One couldn’t really move around, and I was always being sick. When I said that I didn’t feel well, my father always said that I had to wait a little while longer, he couldn’t stop straight away, he had to find a suitable spot, but the truth, I felt, was that he just didn’t want to stop. And more than once did I end up throwing up on the edge of the road, or worse, in the car. But when it came to driving, my father just didn’t want to listen to anyone. He was the only one in the family who could drive, and that made him the sole master aboard.
My cousin R. , six years younger than me was even worse, when she warned that she was not feeling well, if Dad didn’t stop in the next few minutes, there we were, bathing in foul smells!
The car was the only place in the world where I could actually get bored! I always had a book at hand wherever I went, but I just couldn’t read in the car, it made me car-sick.
In those days, we didn’t have a radio, much less a cassette player and cd players didn’t exist. So when my mother was in the mood, we’d play games like telling stories about the shape of clouds, or guessing games in which she’d say the first and last letter of a name, and I’d have to guess which capital city it was, or we’d review the capital cities of every country I knew the name of. Or we’d sing songs.
Later on, they fed me Dramamine before each trip, and that made it even worse because it made me sleep hours on end, a sleep full of nightmares probably induced by the drug.
Those looooong, endless car rides felt like the world would be in motion and uncomfortable forever, a world in which I had no say at all.

About the photo, my father loved Peugeots, so the car in the photo was a Peugeot, and on the side, at the level of my father’s shoulder, there was an arrow that would actually stick out, indicating that you were about to make a turn, instead of today’s turning lights. One little detail I had forgotten, but I can still hear the click sound it made 😉


12 thoughts on “En voiture !

  1. Claude, I am glad I sparked a memory for you – although it may not be the best one…..LOL
    We always had large American cars, and the back window ledge was quite large enough for a 4 to 8 year old (even a tall one like me). My dad knew to stop the car ASAP when I told him I would be sick! I always had books too, but I couldn’t read in the car either – and I still can’t.

  2. My dad had cars with the “trafficators”, the flick out indicators. My sister and I had the job of knocking the pillar behind them to make them pop out when they got stuck. It was great fun as we thought we were helping to drive the car!

  3. What a lovely post. Reading it reminds me how often I think about how many people we used to cram into cars when I was a child. No one used seat belts and often the back seat had four adults, each with a child on their laps. Now it’s five people per car or nothing…

    We used to sing all the way to visit my Grandma – an hour and a half from Edinburgh to Perth – mainly Bing Crosby, as I remember. And then, about five minutes before we got there, my Mum would reach round from the front and start brushing our hair to make sure we were presentable for her Mother! Imagine how hard it must have been to comb a child’s hair who’s squirming about trying to avoid you…

  4. We never had a car when I was a child. I was the first person in the family to get a driving licence, and I only kept a car for a few years. But then, being brought up in London, you get to take public transport for granted. And what could beat the thrill of going up to the top deck of the bus and gripping the handrail in front, “driving” the bus? Where I live we have computer-controlled trains, and you’d be surprised at how many respectable elderly grown-ups hover around the end of the platform hoping to elbow aside the little ones in order to sit up front and “drive” the train!

  5. When you mention dramamine, it reminds me of when Steve was little. He could not tolerate a long car ride either so we tried to give him that pill but he refused to take it so we mashed it up and put it into ice cream.

    He could tell that dramamine was in there, didn’t eat the ice cream and so every so often we had to stop the car because he got car sick.

    I’ll have to ask him if he remembers those car trips!

  6. My siblings and I were also fed Dramamine. We didn’t have pills as Steve Garfield did, we had Dramamine syrup. If my parents didn’t dose us up before the long car journey, there would be problems. We always took our medicine because not taking it was so unpleasant. My mother said it was a dream and used to just knock us all out. When we woke, nobody was sick. Its odd that we just don’t take the long car trips as we did back then. Oh wait, I live on an island now.

  7. What a great photo and great story. And no, I don’t recall ever seeing a child up in that back window ledge.
    I could relate to your story, as I too had terrible car sickness. You know…it struck me as I read this….seems so many of us had car sickness back when. I never hear of kids having it today. I’m wondering if it may have been caused by something manufactured in the cars back then? Or perhaps the type of gasoline used? Seems odd that kids today travel everywhere via car and hardly any get car sick like we did years ago.
    It was SO unpleasant! Sure glad I outgrew it or whatever was used then isn’t used now.

  8. Lovely to see the photo, to read the story, and then to hear your French voice nous raconter tes souvenirs.
    It awakens our dormant memories of time past, never forgotten.

  9. once again i love your old photos and the stories that go with them. began to think how important it once was to have the car included in mid-20th century photographs. of the very few, less than ten, images of mine, two are with autos.

    in the 19th, it was the house (if one had that) or an important family object like a sewing machine. what would it be now?

  10. I am late responding, but your story brought back a different memory. My husband was like your father. When we traveled by car he only wanted to stop for gas and we had to eat and use the bathroom all in one stop. My daughter was a small child and her bladder wouldn’t wait until we needed gas again. She would request a stop and my husband would ask if she was desperate (not wanting to stop at all) and she would reply, “No.” This repeated itself until she was desperate and he had to stop. I complained that it was foolish to make her miserable when he knew he had to stop anyhow. My daughter now says that her Dad gave her great bladder control.

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