If this 1958 Thunderbird was yellow with a white top, it would look like Old Yeller.

Instead of being pink and black, if this 1958 Thunderbird was yellow with a white top and had a smiling teen waving from the driver’s seat, it could be Old Yeller.

This is Sunshine, my amazing FJ Cruiser. I'm crazy about her!

This is Sunshine, my amazing FJ Cruiser. I’m crazy about her, and we’re going to grow old together.

Even Smokey the Bear likes Sunshine when I drive her as a volunteer for the U.S. Forest Service. (pictures by Jim Warner)

Even Smokey the Bear liked Sunshine when I drove her as a volunteer for the U.S. Forest Service. (pictures by Jim Warner)

In 2008, when my mother’s dementia was not yet overwhelming, I took her out to see my new FJ Cruiser and said, “This is Sunshine.” I had to help Mom up into the passenger’s seat because real off-road vehicles in Colorado need a lot of clearance. As I strapped her in, Mom looked around, smiled and said, “I know why you chose this color, Marylin. It’s because of Old Yeller.” I hadn’t thought of a reason other than I just loved Sunshine’s color, but Mom was right.

Many decades earlier, Old Yeller was the car my dad trusted me to drive during my senior year in high school after my brother went to college. She was a 1958 Thunderbird, which later was a much sought after classic, but in 1966 she was just a used car. A wonderful used car that was mine to drive and keep filled with gas, to use as practice for changing a flat tie and checking the oil and all fluids. Because of her I worked at the dealership more hours after school and on weekends to pay for her maintenance, but I loved her.

I am the daughter of a car dealer whose work commitment and love of cars built five successful corporations of dealerships and employed generations of mechanics, sales people, and staff. By the time Dad died of Alzheimer’s, he’d been out of the public eye for years, but at the visitation the line to pay respects wound its way outside, and at the funeral the church was standing room only. The stories about his honesty, fair play, kindness and generous help in difficult times were numerous and touching.

My dad had laughed when I named the Thunderbird Old Yeller, but I’m sure it worried him, too, because to name a car is to form an attachment. I had Old Yeller for only a year. We shook hands on that—with my dad, a hand shake was as binding as a contract—and a year later I went away to college, sad to leave Old Yeller behind.   But the new owner, and my dad, knew that a named car also has often received excellent care. TLC.

Old Yeller was not just my first car, but decades later she was also my first memoir writing sale. I had published a good number of short stories and articles by the time I sold “Memories of Old Yeller” to the national FORD TIMES magazine, but the editors actually paid me a dollar a word for my account of naming my first car and learning unusual lessons. This was exceptional pay, teaching me that memories make for excellent writing exercise, and also encouraged me to spread my writing wings into other genres.

This post is a tribute to Ray Shepherd, who smiled when his daughter named her first car Old Yeller. It’s also a tribute to my mom, Mary Shepherd, who worked along side him to build successful businesses that looked out for their employees and cared for them as friends. My parents went out of their way to help people who were having hard times replace bald tires and get the trustworthy service to keep driving safely.

October is “Name Your Car” month. Before their Alzheimer’s and dementia, my parents were happiest when any car they sold was loved enough to be named.

“General Lee” from THE DUKES OF HAZARD” (Grange picture)

“Christine”–star of the Stephen King novel and movie by the same name.

“Herbie” from LOVE BUG.
(R. Cartwright stock photo)



Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, lessons about life, lessons for great-grandchildren, making a difference, writing, writing exercises


  1. juliabarrett

    I love this story. The story of your cars. I have never once named a car but I have been fond of one. She’s my bud, but no name.

    • There’s a song in that somewhere, Julia: “Car With No Name” or something like that. 😉 I’ve owned many cars in my adult life, but only Old Yeller and Sunshine got names. It was just a natural thing to do. When I got my first (and only) ticket with Sunshine, the highway patrolman smiled when he wrote the ticket. He said, “Drive safely now. And remember, it’s not like we can’t see you.”

  2. What a beautiful story. My husband could relate to all of it. He is an absolute car nut but he never gave his car names .I just drive them and they are always shiny and clean . I am not allowed to take care of them. Which saves me a lot of time to do other things. Being brought up in Germany I never had a car. I call my navigation system Lizzy, she always gives me wrong information.

    • Your husband, like mine, takes really good care of our vehicles, Gerlinde. He isn’t big on naming his 4-Runner that he takes to the mountains, but he agreed to calling it Forrest. I’m still smiling that your Lizzy navigation system is always giving you wrong information. I’ve heard enough examples by friends of the mistakes their systems have made, so I’m cautious even when my computer sets up a route for me to take.

  3. Now I know the story behind the chrome yellow Cruiser on your Facebook page. You mentioned that “to name a car is to form an attachment.” My brother’s dating car car was a Dodge Roadrunner, and it was forever referred to as the Roadrunner, not original but memorable. Our work vans have been referred to by color – the white Ford van, the green Dodge Ram the blue one, and now the beige GMC. Sometimes I think color choices are indicative of personality; at least I’ve seen articles to that effect. if so, the yellow palette would suit you – bright and cheery.

    It tickled me to see the date you took your mom on a cruise in your new car – ha! Dates/numbers are not my strong suit either, and a reader pointed out that in a recent blog post I referred to a blizzard that lasted 31 years.

    Behind the story is the good, old-fashioned values of your family that I hope are not relegated to yesteryear. My dad always bought cars from Siplings in the tiny village of Rheems where Daddy had a farm equipment business because they were good, honest people, and because he wanted to support the local dealers.

    Do you have a link to the article published in FORD TIMES? ‘Tis amazing – a dollar word! Your post are always full of surprises and always amazing, Marylin. Thank you.

    • This is so funny, Marian. I can count on you and my daughter. Molly had just called and said, “Uh, Mom, take another look at the date…” Jim and I had both missed it. You are so gracious, Marian, pointing out that you once wrote that a blizzard lasted 31 years. 😉
      You know, I have a copy of the original article in FORD TIMES, but I couldn’t print it because I sold all rights! At a dollar a word, I had figured it was worth it. So I tried to locate their site and get a link, but the magazine closed years ago, and there’s not even a link.
      When I think of all the short stories, articles and essays I’ve sold for 12-21 cents a word but still owned the rights after a certain length of time. Writing!
      Here’s a toast to my date being off by 100 years and your blizzard being an all-time record holder! 🙂

      • Let’s say we win with words . . . who cares if our numbers sag a little – ha! Moments like this inspire both humor and humility.

      • Words definitely are our tool, Marian, but as the daughter of business parents, the numbers count. So I am so glad that, with your help and Molly’s (and later other readers, too), I corrected my mistake. 🙂

  4. Ahh, I loved this post, Marylin. So many memories. My first car was called Basil – an old Ford Escort with rusty floor pans. I called him this because I thought I’d sound like Sybil from Fawlty Towers when I shouted at him for behaving badly, which he did, frequently. But Basil was my first car and the most memorable. I haven’t named any since. My son’s first car was called Peanut – constructed from some of the letters in the number plate. His new car hasn’t been christened: it’s just a means to an end.

    • The difference between our two countries, Jenny: the name Sybil here (in book or movie) evokes a multi-personality (MANY personalities). Here’s to your Basil and Peanut, and my Old Yeller and Sunshine. 🙂

  5. Totally agree about naming cars – you remember them. When I was first married, we had an old grey VW Beetle we nicknamed Patient Griselda. She was followed by Betty Blue-Eyes. I gave up naming our cars after that, as they changed too often! The only other one that had a name was a canary-coloured Opel GT known to us as The Yellow Peril. This is a lovely post – thank you!

    • Than YOU, Catterel, for sharing Patient Griselda, Betty Blue-Eyes, and the Yellow Peril. I love it.
      My mom always smiled when I talked about Old Yeller. She was glad I loved my first car, but she grew up on a farm, and to her it ranked right up there with naming a calf that would eventually sent to market!

  6. I love that you named your car. I haven´t done that, but I get very attached to my cars and drive them for years. My last car was a silver grey Honda Civic which I drove for 14 years and gave to my daughter when we moved to Spain. A nice tribute to your father. My dad was the same and believed a hand shake was as binding as a contract. His funeral was also very well attended. Good men they were and we learned so much from them.

    • Our fathers were both very good men from the sound of it, Darlene, and I think having a good father is just as important for daughters as for sons. Maybe even more important.
      We still have a 1990 Honda Civic with 226,00 miles (and almost as many smiles). We can’t part with Solly, and probably when our grandchildren are old enough to drive, they’ll used her to practice driving a stick shift. 😉

  7. I haven’t named my car but I am very fond of it. We’ve been a partnership for almost 14 years. I love your Sunshine. Have you written a post on your volunteer work with the Forest Service?

    • I haven’t, Gallivanta, but I think I should. It’s just that this blog is about my mother, and by the time I was volunteering with the Forest Service, her dementia made it so none of that would make any sense to her. Kansas doesn’t have the forests and mountain trails that Colorado does, or the need for volunteers to drive trails to help pull out cars that shouldn’t have been up in those conditions. But thanks for the suggestion; I’ll see what I can do. 🙂

  8. Don

    What a captivating post Marylin. I had a little VW Beetle 1964. I loved that car. It took me everywhere and the memories of her and the day I had to sell her still bring a lump to my throat. Amazing how attached we can become to cars. Thanks for the memory.

    • Jim had a VW bug he bought very used, and he drove it everywhere, Don. It is amazing how attached we can become to our cars. Usually, in the car business, you don’t get attached to the vehicles because you drive them with dealer tags on the back, kind of showing what is available and getting people interested. I was the only one in my family to form such an attachment. I really did love Old Yeller.

  9. Claudia

    Wow, just made the connection…I remember well hearing ads for years about Shepherds in Fort Scott, on KOAM no less. My dad never had a brand new car until way late in life. The first car I remember is a 1949 navy blue Ford that was a shiny pearl of a car. Dad always said never buy a red car as paint fades. We now own a Ford Edge…the color is a gorgeous red called Ruby something, but we call the car the Ruby Slipper in rememberence of those ruby slippers that got Dorothy back to Kansas.

    • The very same Shepherds, Claudia, and until I went to college I worked at the dealership doing typing and filing. We all worked there together, and when I was 16 I got to order the colors, interiors and trims for the new Lincoln Continental that came out that year. I thought it was great.
      Another reason you might not have wanted a red car was that in the 60s-70s, statistics showed that more speeding tickets were given to the drivers of red cars. I also was taught that all colors (at least for American-made cars) have at least two words, and the combination is patented, never just one-word color. My car Sunshine’s color is actually Sun Fusion, which makes it a different shade than the similar-but-not-identical colors for Rave4 cars and Nissans, etc.

  10. Jim

    Fun post, Marylin. Much fine family history here, which would not be complete without including Forest (4Runner) with 187,000 miles and Solly-Car (Honda Civic) with 226,000 miles, both still in the family and fully operational.

    Also, no history about Old Yeller would be complete without your telling the story about when you almost lost her. You told me that story when we were first dating. It made me fond of your dad before I ever met him. Maybe you could tell it again here in your reply. I never get tired of hearing it. Love you.

    • Okay, just for the record and so our grandchildren will know, I almost didn’t get Old Yeller. I knew my dad was going to give me a car to drive as soon as David left for college, and I REALLY liked the yellow and white Thunderbird, but I knew it was up to Dad, and his decision would be final because were, after all, in the business of selling cars.
      So one day while I was filing papers and typing at the dealership, a father and his daughter came in. He shook hands with Dad and put his arm around his daughter’s shoulder and said, “This is the car S—-(I won’t say her name), has chosen, and I’m here to buy it for her.” My heart sank.
      My dad told him that he’d be glad to show him some others , but the little Thunderbird was Marylin’s to drive and take care of for the next year.
      I almost cried, I was so happy, and I’ve always been grateful to my dad for that.
      Love you lots and lots, honey!

  11. Awesome post, Marylin! I thoroughly enjoyed reading about “Old Yeller” and I especially appreciate your father’s reaction to naming the car. Priceless! Have a wonderful weekend, my friend.

  12. My current car, a green Honda Element, is named, “Sierra” because we like to drive to Yosemite as often as we can. Many pieces of furniture in my home has also been named.

    • Okay, Andrew, you’re way ahead of me if you’re also naming pieces of furniture! 😉
      I love that you named your Honda Sierra because of Yosemite. You, too, have the flair for naming things you love! Bravo!

  13. What a fun post! I wonder if people from other countries name their cars or if it is just Americans and our love affair with them? We had a series of station wagons named Betsy when I was a kid. My husband and I went on to own a Volvo station wagon named Betsy as well. She lived a long and happy life.

  14. Hi Marylin!

    Hope you are fine. What a lovely story. I have never named my cars, just gave them nicknames in special situations like ”my poor big white family baby has to go to her doc”. BTW, I never called a car a ‘she’ until I moved to the US.
    Best, Ilka

    • Ilka, I think you just answered Jane’s question (above yours) wondering if it’s mostly Americans who name their cars. The first step is to decide on a gender for you car, and your poor big white family baby must have struck you as a “she.” Thanks for this comment!

  15. Lovely tribute to your parents, Marylin. I love that your first published story was about Old Yeller. The photo of Herbie the Love Bug brings back so many memories. 🙂

    • Of the three pictures I included at the bottom of the post, Jill, Christine is the one that brings back so many memories for me. Only Stephen King could pull it off, actually making a car-come-to-life plot a true horror story.

  16. Odly, I never named a car, but my husband named our newest car, a Camry, “The Silver Bullet” to emphasize that I should not be in a race to get everywhere. At least I look like many others and am not yellow. I’d have a ticket for sure. Did you mean 1908 in your opening sentence? This is a great tribute to your dad and mom. Perhaps if I bought my first car from him, I would have named it. 🚗🚕🚙

    • No, Lynne, after I posted–and both my daughter and fellow blogger Marian questioned the date–I hurried to change it. 1908 was ten years before my mother was even born, so dementia had nothing to do with it.
      😉 My parents never named any of the cars they had for sale, they just got a kick out of me naming Old Yeller, and when customers came in and mentioned their cars by name, it always made them smile because they knew it was a good fit.

  17. Fun post Marylin.
    We had a VW camper van that was bright yellow. We named her Tweety Pie.
    I had an orange (it was a nice burnt orange ok!) Volvo. My staff named it The Great Pumpkin.

    My mother used to make up names for car number plates. In the UK when you get a car it is assigned a number plate that stays with it for life.
    It was always a fun game as we followed another car to see who could come up with the best name.

    Our current car license plate starts EZG so I named it easy girl. Mrs S wasn’t too amused.

    • I bet your wife wasn’t amused, Rod! 😉
      Tweety Pie and The Great Pumpkin could be in a cartoon movie with Old Yeller and Sunshine. I figure that cars with such good names must have really good personalities, too.

  18. calvin

    Applause, grunts and whistles for this one.

    Stalwart. Stalwart. Stalwart. The foundation of family, yours, but a floundering commodity now a days in the new corporate world. The later run by I’s and Me’s with the We’s somewhere off to the side. Some still excel, with the same values of your father, but most don’t.

    One’s drive, of years gone-by was important. More than a ride, as it was a vehicle to one’s future. It got a person off the farm, escape from hard work in factories to quiet countryside, if only for an hour or two on weekends. Quality family time was a drive to somewhere.

    I might add, Sunshine and you make a perfect couple. Um, well you know what i mean. I don’t name my vehicles, but all of my vehicle relationships feel more like a marriage -til death do we part. I have out lived them all, thus far obviously.

    • Thank you, Calvin. Sunshine and I are a good team, and I’ve already had her 7x as long as I had Old Yeller, and I bought her with my own money!
      You’re right about “vehicles to one’s future” being the statement in the past, and also, unfortunately, about how family automobile businesses are falling away.
      I’m determined that Sunshine and I will grow old together. Jim has a 4-Runner named Forrest that he uses when he volunteers to drive mountain trails, so together, we’ll probably be very old people driving our off-road rigs.

  19. Molly

    Dimples, Luxy, Deli Pippa, Trucky, Cavie, Beep beep Jeep, Soli (Sally), Elvira, Grover, Red Rocket, Cookie, Betty Book, and currently 50. These are all the cars I’ve owned…and yes they all have been named!

    I guess Grandma never would have named cars, since she was a farm girl…and running a dealership and naming a car would have been like naming a cow who would end up going to market.

    I think all cars should be named, it is very important!

  20. Betty Book? Are we making her literary now, or do you mean Betty Boop?
    😉 My favorite car you had was your first–Dimples–which you named for all the hail damage and dings. And do I need to tell everyone why your current grey car is named 50. As in 50 shades?
    Your generation keeps us guessing and laughing, Molly. And your wonderful kiddos keep Grandpa and Mor Mor young at heart and very happy. You love you, Mookie.

  21. What a sweet story Marylin. I have very fond memories of all of my old cars. I didn’t name mine but my husband had a name for the big 4×4 truck he was driving when I met him- Nellie Bess. It was huge and had dual gas tanks so he could make it to his hunting camp and back without needing to fill up anywhere.
    My dad owned a dealership as well (we’ve talked about our similarities) and I have very fond memories of it. I had the honor and priviledge of working for him for a couple of years selling new and used cars, imports and American made. His salesmanship taught me so much and those are lessons I take with me still today.
    Blessings to you, Joanne xo

    • Nellie Bess? Aw. A huge hunting truck with dual gas tanks, but such a great name. I love it.
      You and I both learned so much from our fathers, Joanne, and I think it shows in both of our lives. We were very fortunate daughters. Blessing to you, too!

  22. We named one of my first cars as a single Mom, The Clunker. 🙂

    • The seven years I was a single mom, Robin, I would have been VERY happy to have Old Yeller back in my life, believe me. But as long as our cars (including your Clunker) got us where we needed to go and the payments didn’t break us, we were good, right? 😉

  23. Marylin, I love finding new things about you:
    * you worked on cars, (it’s obvious you love cars),
    * I love your “Sunshine” cruiser,
    * you volunteered for the U.S. Forest Service,
    * you received $1.00 per word–fantastic, and most importantly
    * you painted a heartfelt tribute to your mom and dad.
    Thank you for making me smile.
    P.S. I loved Walt Disney’s Herbie, The Love Bug. 🙂

    • Aw, thank you so much for all of those comments, Tracy. Especially that I painted a heartfelt tribute to my mom and dad, since they certainly deserved it, even after his Alzheimer’s and now her dementia.
      It looks like my favorite movie choice of Christine is outvoted by Herbie. 😉

  24. Janet Armstrong

    Marylin, I love to name my cars. The car I have now is “Little Silver” and I love her. She is a 2007 that was purchased on 07-07-07.

    • Now that’s destiny, Janet. 07-07-07! Sunshine sends Little Silver a horn-honking greeting, and I’m thrilled to know that you love naming your cars as much as I do! Next time I come to visit Mom, I hope we can get together; it helped so much when you came to see me when I was with her in the hospital. Thank you again.

  25. A wonderful story, Marylin. I’ve had some cars I loved, but I don’t think I gave them a name. I remember when I sold my 12- or 14-year-old Nissan to a co-worker for a winter rat. I must have sounded very over-productive. He smiled and assured me that he’d treat it better than his first date. That always makes me smile. 😉

  26. Dear Marylin, how wonderful it is to be back here, your oasis of heartwarming, moving and fun posts. How I have missed you! I just love this story about Old Yeller and that is a great point about loving a car so much to name it. Your family values weave throughout your telling of this story, from your dad’s handshake deal with you to your mom’s working alongside your dad as they both built and ran their family business with sheer hard work, honesty and integrity. All passed down to their lovely daughter and beyond 🙂 My eldest son (his birthday today actually!) adored his Matchbox ‘General Lee’, we used to watch Dukes of Hazzard together all the time! I bet you loved your Thunderbird. My ex had a Plymouth Charger when I first knew him in 1979. We were friends then, and our group had many an adventure in that old car. He sold it of course, but like your Thunderbird, it would have been a classic eventually. I don’t think he named his car though…
    Wonderful tribute, thank you Marylin for bringing smiles to my day 🙂

    • PS Meant to say, I love your photographs and your FJ Cruiser 🙂

    • Oh, Sherri, a Matchbox “General Lee” would have made a great trading car. Dukes of Hazzard was such a popular show, and guys loved the car! Was this when you lived in California, or had you moved back to the UK by then? I once save a Matchbox “Christine” car that was just on display and not for sale, but the price was very high.
      It is SO good to have you back, Sherri. I loved reading your recent post and knowing you were back into blogging without sacrificing your wonderful writing projects. Thank you for your sweet words about my parents and their lives before the Alzheimer’s and dementia.
      You have brought smiles to my day, too! 🙂

      • My son had the car in the UK Marylin, he got it when he was three. But sadly when visiting my brother just before we moved to CA, his dog got hold of it and chewed it, but my son still loved it 🙂 He had it for years as part of his prized Matchbox collection, chewed or not! Oh hubby would love a Matchbox ‘Christine’, he is car mad and also loves that book/film. But I can well imagine the large price tag.
        Ahh…I wish I could say more. It is lovely to be back here again Marylin, thank you so much for being such a loyal, lovely friend 🙂 Have a wonderful day!

      • If you ever find a “Christine” matchbox (in good condition, not dog-chewed) at a reasonable price, you should consider investing in it. Supposedly, it’s one of the most sought after. I wonder if Stephen King has one… 😉

      • Ha…I’ll let you know if I ever do Marylin! And yes…somehow, I’ll bet he does 😉

  27. Nancy Parker Brummett

    Wonderful, Marylin. I’ll have to think of a name for the car I’m driving now as I also think of it as my last car.

    • Make it a goal this month, Nancy, and you’ll be surprised the fun you’ll have choosing the best name. It’s kind of like naming a child–okay, maybe more like naming a kitten–but once you find the name you want, it’s a really good feeling, and you do “bond” a bit. 🙂

  28. Those are great memories Marylin, it’s wonderful that those memories of your first car are entwined with good memories of your parents.

  29. A great post Marylin that contains another wonderful tribute to your parents and too your upbringing. Their work ethic would have been good for staff relations but also brought them wonderful friends.No wonder your dad’s funeral was so well attended.
    I know how well you took your parent’s lessons to heart because you’ve become exactly the same kind of special person we hear about from you.
    xxx Sending the usual Massive Hugs xxx

  30. Talk about being attached to a car. When I had to give up my beloved D.J. (Darla’s Jeep) after a traffic accident, I cried. Now you’ve reminded me that I need to give my new (used) car a name. Or maybe not … 🙂

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