An Imperial Christmas

During Christmas in 1982, I fell in love. The object of my affection was a 1960 pink Chrysler Imperial. I spotted it one day a few blocks from our house. It was parked in the street and had a “For Sale” sign in the window. The car was boxy, broad, and brawny. It had more chrome plating than I had ever seen and weighed more than two and-a-half tons. As if that weren’t enough, it was a convertible with a white leather interior, a driver’s seat that swiveled, and transmission buttons on the dashboard. How could I not be in love? I had to have this car for Christmas.

But it was not to be. I also had three small children, a wife, and obligations. A car like the Imperial was both impractical and expensive. People pointed out the obvious, and I had to sit and listen to them like Job on a dungheap. It was a gas guzzler, a boat that required a dock rather than a driveway. Think of the repairs and spare parts. Would I even be able to find a mechanic to work on it?

“Can you imagine car seats in the back?” a friend of my wife asked. A second described the car as “hideous.” I took offense at that. After all, what could be more beautiful than a car with vibrant color in a sea of drab, Japanese imports that looked like electric razors buzzing up and down the freeway? This was a real car with a V8 engine, 413 cubic inches under the hood, and 260 horsepower. Compared to the Imperial, all other cars were just glorified lawnmowers.

Eventually, sadly, my wife talked me into getting a Volkswagen bus. Still, I pined for the Imperial. She pointed out that there may have been more going on with me than nostalgia. I told her my interest centered around preserving the past and appreciating history. So she got me a history textbook on World War One.

Of course, she was right. There was more going on than nostalgia. I have always had a personal interest in and devotion to the past. It shows itself in the things I surround myself with: rotary phones, antique typewriters, metal file cabinets, wooden card catalogues, a poor box from a Baroque church, old blue book exams. I even have a can of shaving cream from a trip I took to Italy nearly twenty years ago with my daughter. It’s still pressurized. What can I say? I am a measured man. Then there are the coasters from a European trip I took with a friend nearly forty years ago. Yet, I am not a pack rat. There is a method to my collecting.

What is it? I want to remember the past and preserve it out of duty but, more importantly, because I would feel lost without it. I don’t want the past to slip into oblivion. This isn’t just my worry. The ancient Greeks believed the river Lethe flowed through Hades, erasing the memories of the dead once they drank from it. That, to them, was hell. It is to me, too: a kind of existential Alzheimer’s if not exactly a medical one. And what of society in general? Are we not suffering from mass amnesia? Convince me otherwise.

There is one important thing I’ve learned in all my time collecting, documenting, and preserving things as the family historian. It is this. I never stopped to consider the most valuable artifact from the past, the one that contains all the memories, collective and personal, that I have experienced through the years. That artifact is not a diary, Christmas card, or love letter. It is me.

I remember the past. I hold it together, preventing it from slipping into oblivion. But not just me. It is all of us once we recognize our importance and the reason that a Savior was born. Not to preserve material things but to redeem us from insignificance and our fear of death. Because of him, all of our Christmases are Imperial.

Haven’t had enough? Go to Robert Brancatelli. Auto image courtesy of RainWater Gallery. For more on the past, see Memory of Mankind. The Brancatelli Blog is a member of The Free Media Alliance. Merry Christmas. 


  1. you made me think of “VW buses”– in high school, one of our friends had one — we loved it–we all piled in and went to basketball games, then to Great Kills point to party– he always got a quarter of a keg, I think it was– we’d get bombed and laughed and had the time of our lives– big “bonfires” there, with high school kids from all the high schools—it was the greatest hang out on SI then—our favorite story to remember, was the night that our friend with the bus, lost his glasses– one girl knocked them off his face by accident, and they fell in the ocean and sand, below where we parked- we all freaked out, he was so upset, so we climbed down, wading in the water in the moonlight, looking for glasses… the waves were going in and out, and we found them !!!!—-one of our fun memories… that VW Bus !!

  2. I have to chuckle Rob; Back in 1975 with limited budget as a college student, i purchased a 1962 Dodge Dart. I bought it for 200 bucks back in the day which was a common expediture in those days for what people would call a ” bomb”. Due to stringent safety regulations and emission requirements nowadays these modern day jalopys dont exist. It was a really cool vehicle in that the AM radio had to warm up before any music came on. It had a push button transmission, bucket seats, bald tires and No Muffler. I used to pick my girlfriend up in it religiously at the same time every day and a resident living on Lathrop ave. could gear what time it was by the sound of my car picking her up at the Dickie Ave intersection. That car made me infamous. I believe I got $25 from the junkie when I euthenized it when I got all I can from it. Thanks for your memory rekindling mine. Merry Christmas Sir.

  3. Yeah, Robert!!! Thank you so much for this wonderful post:)

    Although I agree that we, all of us, are here, I confess that I still like to seek out my few remaining copies of the first Nancy Drew Mysteries and Little Women and Little Men, published first by Grossett and Dunlap, New York City.

    My grandpa Connelly arrived in New York City, by way of Ellis Island in 1899 from Ireland. In 1899, my grandpa was new born, but eventually, he worked many years for Grossett and Dunlap Publishers and brought home all of the books they published and I eagerly read!

    I regularly sneak a peek at my grandpa’s violin too, and think of all of the voyages and music it made!

    Mil gracias, Robert.

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