When I was 15 years old, Daddy sold his boat and bought me a 1979 Mustang Ghia. Aunt Cathy called and told me to get up to Granny and Papa’s as soon as I could. I was afraid something was wrong because I really wasn’t expecting Aunt Cathy to be at Granny and Papa’s. I told Mama she hustled me out to the car and up the road we went in a pouring down rain. I should have suspected something because Mama was acting entirely too calm for anything to be gravely amiss.
We turned onto Weathers Circle, and I saw Daddy’s black Chevy truck, Papa’s slate blue Comet station wagon, Granny’s blue Ford LTD, Cathy’s gold Oldsmobile, and a white Mustang. We pulled in and I tore into the house expecting to find everything in a state of panic with Granny or Papa on the floor and Daddy or Cathy huddled over them. Instead, everyone was sitting down smiling. I was so confused. Then Daddy said, “So, boy, how do you like your car?”
Okay, I may have been second in my class of 399, but I could be a mite slow on the uptake.
I asked him, “What car?”
He said, “The Mustang you passed on your way in here.”
Epiphany! I turned to see Mama smiling too. She HAD known. She and Daddy talked and she’d agreed to pay my insurance if Daddy bought the car. I couldn’t stop shaking as I walked to the driveway oblivious to the fact that I was getting wet. It could have been raining flaming camel dung and I wouldn’t have noticed. This white, four wheeled goddess was my car. I had just vaulted to the tiptop of the pecking order among my friends. All the other first cars I’d seen were rattletrap jalopies one good pothole away from the junkyard while I had a barely used Mustang with the carpet still damp from the car lot detailing job.
I got behind the wheel as Aunt Cathy climbed in the passenger seat. Daddy passed me the keys with two words and a smile, “Be careful.” That moment was the happiest I’ve ever seen Daddy. He looked childishly happy and since I wasn’t used to him or Mama looking happy it shocked me a little. I never saw Daddy happier until the day Nick tossed a bib embroidered with “Grandpa” in Daddy’s lap thereby announcing Mason’s imminent arrival.
I recovered and took Cathy around the block for the first ride in MY new car. Then Mama. Then Granny. I offered to take Daddy and Papa but they politely declined. I hugged Daddy and thanked him, but not nearly enough.
That first evening, I showed her off to my buddies then took her over to see my 15 year old girlfriend. She ooohhed and aaahhhed satisfactorily as her father, who didn’t much like me anyway, stared with murderous intent at me AND the car. All he said (growled actually) was, “Not til she’s sixteen” before going back into the house.
I don’t know if I’ve ever been happier before or since. I got a boss new stereo and tuned the engine just right. If I wasn’t driving her, I was waxing her. I probably changed the oil six times in the time she was mine. We had a way to go without begging a ride. Five months later, my girl turned sixteen, and we went on our first date. She was supposed to be home by ten; we pulled in the driveway at 9:45. I was terrified of her father.
Put it in fast forward for about ten months to early Tuesday afternoon, late July.
I was headed home via Fountain Inn, windows down, Sam Sham and the Pharaohs belting out “Woolly Bully” on the stereo when it occurred to me I should go see Granny and Papa.
FI is a three red light town. I was coming up on the first and saw it was red. Right then, things went all to hell.
My buddy Robby once told me I was the most intelligent person he’d ever known, but I didn’t have sense enough to get out of a rainstorm. Approaching the light, I thought, with perfect clarity, “Oh dear, I must turn left to go back to Granny and Papa’s. I cannot turn left on a red light. What shall I do? Ah ha, I see the next light is green. I can turn left on a green light and go back to Granny and Papa’s. That is what I shall do! I am so smart!”
Anybody spot the flaw in that little plan?
As the Pharaohs reached the final climactic “Woolly Bulllllyyyy” chorus, I once again proved Robby right by sailing through the red light into the path of an old decrepit jeep. I remember it happening in slow motion, looking out the window at the approaching jeep and thinking, “This is gonna hurt!”
The jeep took me in the driver’s door and knocked me across the console (cool guys don’t wear seat belts) into the passenger’s seat amidst a maelstrom of glass and metal. It seemed eerily quiet for a few seconds, then the world became one huge conglomerate of noise. I leaned up and opened the passenger door of my shattered goddess and walked towards a nearby street lamp. It had a nice wide, inviting base and seemed like a fine place to sit and reflect on what I should do next. The driver of the jeep, which was unscratched save a broken wooden bumper (that’s foreshadowing folks), walked over and said, “Man, are you okay?” I nodded.
Just then, Mr. Wofford Woods appeared in my field of vision. He and Granny Wham worked in the store connected to the street light I was now leaning against. Thankfully she was off on Tuesdays. My reflective period abruptly ended; I moved to action.
Reaching up, I took Wofford by the jacket lapels and, with what little authority I could put into my sixteen year old crackling voice, said, “Wofford, DO NOT call Mama. I repeat DO. NOT. CALL. MY. MOTHER., and FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, DO NOT call Granny.” Then, for the first and, to now, last time in my life, I uttered, “You call Laurens Glass Plant and GET. MY. DADDY!!”
Wofford nodded, strode off, and promptly ignored every word. I realized this when, about seven minutes after I lost sight of him, a light blue ’78 Ford LTD jumped the curb and skidded to a stop in a nova of dust, grass clumps, and broken sprinkler heads. Granny Wham leaped from the car and I knew instantly she’d be taken unawares whilst getting ready to go out because she had on her best slacks but was wrapped in her rattiest housecoat, (If you’re not from the South, you might not know what a housecoat is, but it’s ok), her curlers still in her head, AND a generous amount of pink Oil of Olay she missed with the washrag in the excitement on her face.
I made a mental note to kill Wofford.
Granny was still in her prime in those days — nary a bit bowed with age, infirmity, or indecision. She would have happily fought (and probably killed) a raging tyrannosaurus bare-handed had she felt one of her own was in danger. She hugged me to her in all out mother hen mode and started asking questions. Many, many questions I lacked the ability to answer. I managed to reach up and gently put my finger to her lips to quiet her and ask, “Where is Papa?” She replied, indignantly, “Frank was shaving and had half his face done and refused to wash his face off and come with me before he finished! He just said, ‘Mama, he can’t be hurt very badly since he had sense enough to tell Wofford not to call you’ and went back to shaving.” Inside, I wept for Papa because Granny calling him “Frank” instead of “Daddy” was the equivalent of her or Mama using my full, three word name.
Soon after, Mama made a similar curb jumping entrance. Luckily, she had been about to go to work on second shift at the textile plant so she was fully dressed. Then the ambulance arrived and Mama talked Granny into going home to get Papa . . . and finish dressing, while Mama rode with me in the ambulance.
We got to the hospital despite nearly wrecking the ambulance and they took me into ER. Remember the wooden jeep bumper? It’s important now. The charge nurse took a pair of scissors and began to cut my jeans off. I was wearing the only pair of Guess jeans I have ever owned. They cost $50 in 1986 money. I was proud of those jeans, so I screamed out, “Don’t do that! My Ima (my other grandmother) can get any stain out of anything!”
So, the nurse said, in the tone of someone who knows something YOU do not know, “Okay, sir, go ahead and take your pants off.” Turns out, what she knew that I didn’t was I had a six inch long, four inch wide sliver of jeep bumper sticking out of my left leg. As I pushed my pants down, I found the rest of the piece of wood — jammed against my left femur. My hand pushed the wood, the wood scraped down the bone, and I snatched the scissors away from the nurse and cut my jeans of.
I’d gotten X-rayed and scheduled to have a doctor look at me when Daddy opened the curtain, walked in and said, “Looks like I sold my boat for nothing.”
At the time, I was livid that he could speak to me like that with the day I was having. I was pissed. Ten years later, I found out Daddy had driven from Laurens at bat-out-of-hell speeds unaware if I was alive or dead. Then, when he walked into the ER, Granny Wham grabbed him and said, without fanfare or word of how I was doing, “The car is totaled and he HAS to have a car!!.” So Daddy was as mad at her as I was mad at him basically for the same reason. Wish I’d know that then.
Mama took me home about an hour later. Two days later, Papa Wham took me to the junk yard where my goddess had been laid to rest to recover a few things. I was going to get my stereo, but when I saw the console, I gave up that idea. I started school on crutches the next week. I was out of work for three weeks and my girlfriend cheated on me with one of my co-workers. To this day, I have a massive scar on my left thigh that is all grody and sunken in. Still hurts like crap sometimes too. In my mind, I deserve it for killing my snow white goddess.
Looking back, I’m pretty sure I’ve never been as happy as I was for those ten months. I’ve had other cars. Some of them were awesome, but you never forget your first.
I guess Robert Frost said it best, “Nothing gold can stay.”
Of course, Dallas would say, “Stay gold, Pony Boy!”
All of you, stay golden too.
Love y’all and make sure to wash your feet!