Here I am again, about to confess another regret. There’s a story behind the earlier story I wrote about my teenage driving soon after I got my driver’s license at age sixteen in 1961—at the start of one of the most turbulent decades of the twentieth century. Shortly before I got my driver’s license, Daddy traded our old faded red 1950 Dodge pickup for a distinctive looking two-tone white over royal blue, low mileage 1959 Dodge pickup. He had indicated that he
1959 two-tone Dodge Sweptline Pickup
would get a newer pickup by the time I got my driver’s license so I would have something better looking to drive, and I appreciated his sentiment.
In the first few months of my driving I mostly went out with hell-raising boys from my high school class, each of us feeling our oats and seeing which one could do the craziest things. Some of these things included throwing cherry bombs into quiet herds of cattle along roadsides late at night, just to watch them run into deeper darkness away from our headlights. In towns like nearby Clarksville we would buy a dozen eggs and smash them on the shiniest sports cars we could find parked along the streets or in driveways. And of course there was driving our flashy 1959 Dodge pickup maxed out at 107 miles per hour with the headlights off.
As I began to tire of these man-proving antics after a few months, I turned my attention more to girls. Nearly all of the boys in my class who were dating had cars to drive. I began to feel like a real hick trying to attract girls to go out with me in a pickup truck, while my friends with cars had an unfair advantage over me.
To Daddy’s deep dismay, only months after making what for him was a deep financial sacrifice in buying that late-model Dodge pickup for me to use, I began to harp about not having a car like my brother Nolen Robert did when he was my age. I could tell this argument bothered Daddy, so I kept on message for a few months until he blurted out a solution that he had no doubt thought about a great deal:
“E. B., I’m going to trade off our Dodge pickup, because it’s fairly new, to get you a car and me an older pickup.”
This was a simultaneously exciting and guilt-inducing plan. I was about to get my first car, but at Daddy’s highly visible expense. Family and friends would know that he didn’t have the money to just get me a car outright, but that he had to trade a higher-value pickup for a lower-value car and replacement pickup.
When Daddy made the trade, it looked even worse. He got me what was considered a “hot” black and white 1957 Chevy that instantly made me the
envy of my friends, while he got himself an old faded green 1950 GMC pickup that was a far cry from the flashy late-model blue and white 1959 Dodge pickup.
1950 GMC Pickup
On closer examination, my ’57 Chevy had been run pretty hard, showing many signs of age and wear. A hole was rusted in the floor just below the gas pedal, so that when it rained water splashed up through a hole in the floor mat and up the back of my right calf. I fixed this problem by cutting out a piece of rubber from an old inner tube and placing it under the floor mat over that rusted-out hole.
Daddy’s old GMC pickup had been run longer and harder. It tilted to the right a bit, the result of a broken spring under the right rear of the truck. It was prone to break down on the road. Once Daddy called me to come pick him up near the town of Erin in Houston County, Tennessee, where his truck had just conked out on the shoulder of Highway 13.
I felt bad about the deal that Daddy felt he had to make on my behalf, in no small part because he was basically without any money to spare at that time on our farm.
I suspect it is relevant that when the time came years later for me to buy cars for my daughter Joy and my son Bob, I spent the minimum on their cars. I did not believe in “spoiling” kids with expensive or even late-model cars. After considering buying Joy a discarded Brinks truck for extra safety, I bought her an old, rusted-out burgundy Chevy Camaro with a powerful V-8 engine under a hood that was about six feet long. She would be protected behind a lot of heavy metal. Three years later I bought my son an old bronze-colored Mazda hatchback that had 130,000 miles on it, with its better days behind it for sure.
Years later as my daughter approached early middle age, she confessed to me that she used to drive that old Camaro at speeds in excess of 100 miles per hour on the long, flat, blacktop roads outside the city limits of Champaign, Illinois. Apparently she had listened closely to the stories of my teenage driving and felt she needed some similarly exhilarating experience. Fortunately, Bob’s old Mazda lacked the power for driving at very high speeds, and the choice of that car was also to help protect him from the kind of driving he had heard me brag about as he was growing up.
Both of their old first cars reminded me many times of the trade Daddy had made for me to get my first car. I still feel bad about that, about Daddy’s publicly embarrassing sacrifice for me.
Somehow my need for a car overrode my guilt over what Daddy had to do to get it for me. But the guilt lasted far longer than the car, even to this day.
Photo Credits: 1) 1959 two-tone Dodge pickup — http://sweptlinetruck.com/images/1959/1959_sweptline_big.png, 2) 1957 Chevy — http://www.carnut.com/cgi-bin/02/image.pl?/show/02/kake/kake056.jpg, and 3) 1950 GMC pickup — http://www.google.com/imgres?hl=en&sa=X&rlz=1C1GGLS_enUS291US304&biw=1024&bih=653&tbm=isch&prmd=imvns&tbnid=A5BFZLPhh7pzrM:&imgrefurl=http://www.autabuy.com/Vehicles/Details.cfm%3FVID%3D141888%26Year%3D1950%26Make%3DGMC%26Model%3D5%2520WINDOW&docid=DCAt3_ODxXEWDM&imgurl=http://www.autabuy.com/Photos/141888_134897469.jpg&w=400&h=250&ei=qZQ1T8TsH_PLsQLfl_XuAQ&zoom=1&iact=hc&vpx=569&vpy=318&dur=1675&hovh=177&hovw=284&tx=174&ty=110&sig=111306877988427938320&page=1&tbnh=105&tbnw=168&start=0&ndsp=15&ved=1t:429,r:8,s:0