CANTON — Dreams do come true, no matter one's age.
For Clara Thibault, who is two months shy of 101, Tuesday morning's ride in a 1929 Packard was heaven sent.
Her first car was a 1929 Packard sedan that she and husband Earl Thibault, a saxophonist, bought in Boston.
“It was very good,” Thibault said of the ride around Canton with owner Michael J. Fiori of Columbia Classic Cars in Winthrop.
“The trip with Clara was one of the most fascinating dates I could ever remember having,” Fiori said. “And to have a date these days with someone who was around and driving a brand-new Packard in 1929 is quite rare, indeed.”
The event was originally supposed to happen last year, two months shy of Clara's 100th birthday, caregiver Becky Knox said.
For her 95th birthday, the staff at Victorian Villa Rehabilitation Center, where she lives, surprised her with a limousine ride. Nearly five years later, when asked by caregiver Shelly Harlow if she wanted to go for a ride on a Harley-Davidson motorcycle to commemorate her 100th birthday, Clara said, “I'm too old for a Harley. I need to have a ride in my first car, a 1929 Packard.”
Undaunted, Knox shifted into gear and placed advertisements for two weeks in the Sun Journal and Rumford Falls Times, remembering a Sun Journal Sun Spots listing about a man who knew of someone with a 1929 Packard.
That someone was Bernard “Roy” Weymouth, the restoration specialist and manager at Columbia Classic Cars. He said his grandmother saw the ad and called him.
Their Packard is a 1929 series 645 Deluxe Eight Dietrich Dual Cowl Sport Phaeton, which is one of about 24 such Packards made in Detroit. Fiori said there were only eight to 10 left in the world. His is valued at $150,000 to $170,000 and was originally titled on June 12, 1929.
However, before Fiori and Weymouth could bring the car to Clara, she fell and broke her hip, Knox said.
On Tuesday, a year later, after arriving with the three-tone, dark-green Packard in a large trailer, Fiori drove it through the parking lot to the Canton nursing home's rear building to pick up Clara.
Sporting a white handlebar mustache and a straw hat, Fiori honked the horn. A smiling Clara emerged in a wheelchair as a few residents and several caregivers came out to watch.
Clara waved to the crowd before three caregivers lifted her into the passenger seat as several people with cameras swirled around her like paparazzi for a celebrity.
“Does this sound like your Packard, Clara?” Fiori asked, revving the engine, with Knox and Weymouth in the back seat.
“Yes,” she answered.
“Remember this?” Fiori asked, honking the horn twice.
Clara nodded yes.
And then they were off.
“That was so cool,” Harlow said, tears of joy welling in her eyes. “I'm so happy we got that for her. She's going to sleep like an angel tonight.”
Clara, who was born in Canada and met her husband while both worked at the Gillette Co. in South Boston, moved to Rumford after her husband died at the age of 66 at their home in Florida, her friend Melinda Ellis said.
“Oh look! She's still waving,” Harlow said when Fiori returned.
More surprises were revealed by Fiori after Clara thanked him for the ride and returned to her room.
“She smiled the whole trip and she truly loved the feel of that shift, and I think a couple of times when we ground the gears, she almost admonished me for it,” he said.
“It was amazing!" Fiori said. "I was sitting there coddling her hand, and then all of a sudden, I noticed it went up into second. And I said, 'Geez!' And then we pulled up to a stop sign and I said, 'We've got to put it in first, and she pulled it down into first! And then when I was grinding the gears a little bit, she's going, 'Oh! Oh! Oh!' She recognized that sound.
"It's like riding a bicycle," he said. "I'm sure at nearly 101 she sat in that car, and for a moment, something hit her and it was like being in her car. Wonderful.”
“I had a feeling, too, that Clara and I could have kept riding somewhere east of Laramie,” Fiori said, referring to a famous Packard quote. “She did, too. She wanted to keep on going.”