If you were a child of the 1960s and 1970s in the US, the title of this post probably brings one thing to mind: station wagons. The station wagon was the quintessential pre-SUV, gas guzzling family vehicle with the turning radius of an army tank.  You could comfortably fit everyone on your block for a trip to the drive-in.

My family didn’t have a station wagon, but my aunt and uncle did. It was a fabulous avocado green with fake wood paneling along the sides. Just like this:

Ford Country Squire

Image via WikiCommons

The way back refers to the rear-facing, third-row seat. It was the perfect place for rabble-rousing, as my aunt used to say, just far enough from my uncle’s long reach.

On warm summer evenings, when it was often light until 9 p.m., my cousin and I would climb into the way back of the Hulk (what else do you call an enormous, angry, green car?). My uncle would drive the whole family to the Italian ices place across town. My cousin and I sucked the ices from the paper cup while a line of red dribbled down to our elbows. I was just young enough not to think it gross to lick the juice off my arm. Then we’d all climb back into the station wagon while my uncle pumped the gas pedal, making it rev like a jet engine.

Image via Wikicommons

Seat belts? We don’t need no stinkin’ seat belts. Image via Wikicommons

Station Wagon: A Safer Place for Kids

Interesting what was considered “safe” back then. Image via Wikicommons

The extra-fun part about the way back was the ability to look other drivers in the eye.  We spent a lot of time at red lights and stop signs making ridiculous faces and (my favorite) doing a “Jaws” sketch wherein we pretended we were being attacked by a shark, thrashing this way and that until we were “eaten” and sank below the door.

There was also the opportunity to interact with the cars around us in a meaningful way. One night, my cousin dangled her legs out the way back window. Correction: My long and lean, Bo Derek look-alike cousin dangled her legs out the way back window. Appreciative honks and whistles sounded. Of course, I wanted to do everything she did, so I stuck my legs out the way back window also. Correction. I stuck my hairy calves out the way back window as I was too young to have started shaving and too short for my legs to reach farther. All honking ceased immediately.

What got me thinking about station wagons was an excellent movie called The Way, Way Back. Duncan’s (Liam James) summer is not off to a good start. His mother (Toni Collette), her overbearing boyfriend (Steve Carrell) and his daughter stick 14-year-old Duncan in the way, way back literally and figuratively. Having a rough time fitting in, Duncan finds an unexpected friend in Owen (Sam Rockwell, who was wonderfully cast), manager of the Water Wizz water park. Allison Janney was terrific as the neighbor.

The dialogue was sharp and witty as written by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash (the team who brought you The Descendents). There are clear consequences to the character’s actions (and also their inaction).  The Way, Way Back is  charming and poignant and fun. It’s a feel good flick that proves you don’t need explosions and apocalypses and flesh-eating zombies to keep audiences interested.  If you enjoyed Little Miss Sunshine and Juno, you’ll enjoy this one, too. The movie was out in limited release this week in NYC, but look for it when it comes to your neck of the woods.


Do you have any fond memories of your family’s car? 

Have a great weekend, everyone!

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