Jonathan Ottke and Mary Lucas

Jonathan Ottke


In Remembrance of Tilly
By Mary Lucas
Inspiration piece

There are a few places from my past I visit in my mind and heart when I’m looking for warmth and safety. My grandparents yard in Michigan surrounded by an acre of garden. The kitchen in the home where I ate most of my childhood meals; a knotty pine wrapped room with a clothes washer at one end and the sink where we washed thousands of dishes at the other. And, in a genuinely special place in my heart, the back seat of Tilly.

Tilly moved to the neighborhood when I was in fourth grade. The Gallo family arrived from Ohio shortly before their moving van. Two vehicles appeared in the driveway: a late model brown station wagon with wood paneling on the side, and a bright turquoise second car. As we introduced ourselves to our new neighbors Mrs. Gallo presented her much loved car “Tilly”, making it clear that “Tilly” was a “she”. I regret there are no photos to help identify Tilly’s auto family tree. It could be a trick of memory, but I believe she was a Ford. Her small, rounded body places her birthday in the late 1930’s or 1940’s, before auto curves turned to fins on longer, leaner vehicles.

An old, bright turquoise car stood out on the street in a small, rural town in Illinois in the early 1960’s. But to fully appreciate Tilly you had to climb into her black interior. The old auto leeched old leather, dust dropped from years of shoes, boots and sandals and a strong overtone of oil. Tilly’s back seat was a rich, dark, musky atmosphere punctuated with harsh sounds of gears changing, unlike the slick automatic transmissions of the other car pool cars that carted us to school and back.

Several of us squeezed into the back seat in those days before child auto safety laws, we were transported in Tilly land. The bumps in the road were a little more pronounced than in the newer cars driven by other mothers. We slid around on the leather seat and worked to keep our stacks of books secure on our laps. It was an adventure.

The Gallo family had moved to town so Mr. Gallo could open our first full grocery store complete with a full produce section, wide array of brands and products and much lower prices than our neighborhood markets could offer. As the profits from the new store quickly piled up Mr. Gallo wanted to share the wealth with his beloved wife – he wanted to buy her a new car. I was privy to many of the conversations when he offered to buy her any car she wanted. She never looked at him when we brought up the subject; she just shook her head and mumbled “no”. We all knew she meant it.

Tilly stayed with us through grade school. Once we transitioned to middle school we could take the bus. I don’t remember what finally brought about Tilly’s end but I’m sure it came down to keeping her Mrs. Gallo’s passengers safe. One weekend Mr. and Mrs. Gallo went car shopping and a new car was placed on order. Tilly’s days were numbered.

Mr. Gallo arranged for the new car to be delivered to the house so they wouldn’t have to drive Tilly away to trade her in. All of us old car pool kids were lined up across the street as an enormous, shiny bronze station wagon swept to the curb. A man got out of the new car, quickly took Tilly’s keys from Mr. Gallo’s outstretched hand, and drove Tilly away forever.

As Tilly turned the corner at West Walnut and headed for Main Street, out of site, Mary Gallo stood sobbing uncontrollably by the driveway. Her husband put his arms around her and kept murmuring that it would be OK. “Look at your beautiful new car!” he said. “But I want my Tilly,” was her answer. I lived across the street from the Gallo’s until I was twenty one and that was the only time I saw Mrs. Gallo cry, except when her father died.

I never learned the full story of Tilly and why Mrs. Gallo was so attached to her. Yet I shared her love for the old car. I shed some tears of my own as Tilly was driven away. Throughout junior high and high school there were mornings I would look across the street to the driveway where Tilly used to sit, longing to climb into her back seat once again and ride into a simpler time.


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  1. Posted March 11, 2016 at 7:40 pm | #

    Lovely, Mary. I identify with your story in several ways including that my 16 year old car is called NellyBelle, and everyone knows all about Nelly and me. We go everywhere together. I also identify with the importance you place on Tilly’s color. I even did a painting called “Cars used to come in such pretty colors.” It isn’t a great painting, but it evokes great memories.

  2. Posted March 11, 2016 at 7:42 pm | #

    Jonathan, your portrait of Tilly is adorable. Love it. She is definitely bright eyed. I can understand why she would be so well missed.