It was like new: a black 1936 Studebaker
Club Coupe with brown leather rumble seat.
Father had gone to Orlando by bus to
pick it up from Grandmother. She had purchased the car for us from an elderly
resident residing in her nursing home.
To find such a vehicle at the height
of the war, particularly with a full set of treads was a gift straight
from the Almighty! The family was ecstatic; it was our first car! As
for me, I was overjoyed to the point of giddiness... my fifteenth birthday
was near and I could take the driver's exam once I mastered the fine art
“Fast Eddy” could soon be a clutch-poppin’
gear-jammin’ menace on the back roads of South Georgia!
To surprise Father, Brother and I meticulously
cleaned every nook and cranny of the wagon shed to garage the Studebaker...
even went so far as to rake the ruts for a nice smooth sandy finish. Everyday
following chores, we trekked out to the main road in hopes of getting an
early glimpse of our new chariot. Each cloud of dust brought bouts of euphoria...
followed by bitter disappointment as loggers would come by burying us in
clouds of dust. Late in the week after another fruitless vigil, we headed
to the house for supper. Ambling along, I vented my frustration by tossing
rocks at hapless birds gorging in the fence-line blackberry brambles. Little
Brother, my constant shadow, moped behind mumbling and kicking dirt clods
from the clay ruts with his bare feet. Time was sure dragging.
Off in the distance came an unfamiliar
sound! Was it our new Stude? As the vehicle drew closer, I squinted, shading
my eyes against the setting sun... it was black and a car I had never seen
Honking “Shave and a haircut... two
bits,” Father displaying an air of nobility pulled up beside us with his
arm cocked out the window. Wow! What a sleek beauty she was and purring
like a Singer sewing-machine! Leaping in the air, I was overcome with excitement
to the extent of soiling my overalls... it was the first pangs of man's
enduring love affair with the automobile! I climbed on the running-board
for the ride to the house... smitten to the core!
With the wind in my face, I pictured
myself doing wheelies and cutting donuts in front of Betty Jean “Big T”
Jordan's house... ah yes; “Fireball Eddy” was on top of the world! Father
kept his thumb on the horn past the Walker place, across the branch; through
the pine thicket right up to the front gate... it was a hell of a ride!
To this day I remember the thrill of riding running-boards!
After officially kicking a tire and
inspecting under the hood, I opened the hatch to the rumble seat... it
was like new! It even had that unique showroom smell! Apparently the old
gent had never opened or used the seat! Bro and I jumped into the hatch
claiming the seat as ours forever! The brown shiny stitched leather was
soft and cool to the touch... it was a marvelous machine!
Making slobbery motor sounds and shifting
imaginary gears, we sat in the rumble seat until called to supper. Thinking
back, the scene was not unlike “Dude Lester” in Erskine Caldwell’s classic
“Tobacco Road.” In fact many locals, including my own family could have
easily stepped from the pages of the novel.
As is customary, a new vehicle must
be shown off... it is as American as apple-pie! Our small farm community's
center of social activities was Arlie Sinclair’s gas station and mercantile
store a few miles up the dirt road in Snipesville. Nestled against a backdrop
of scrub oaks and long-leaf pines, the store was strategically located
in the south fork of a five dirt road intersection. The metropolitan area
consisted of Arlie’s store, a rundown eight-room elementary school with
adjoining soup kitchen and the principal's quarters. The towns only other
residents were a chewed-eared coonhound and a three-legged birddog called
“Tripod.” The old hound was affectionately dubbed Mayor. His Honor's office
was under the store's front overhang next to the Quaker Oil rack.
Arlie’s was a typical country store,
with one Standard Oil hand-cranked gas pump... self-service of course.
There were a couple of benches propped against the wall adjacent to the
front screen door for the local gossips, whittlers, City Council and weather
guessers. Metal signs, hawking Merita Bread, RC Cola, Bugler Tobacco, Martha
White Flour and other commodities were haphazardly nailed to the weathered
clapboard siding creating rusty patterns on the peeling white paint. A
bright red Bull of the Woods Chewing Tobacco logo... the local chew of
choice, was prominently displayed over the store entrance.
An old Model A Ford that Mister Sinclair
had cut-down to make a flatbed truck was parked between the icehouse and
kerosene tank. It was a permanent fixture and the center of an ongoing
contest among young bucks. The origin of the contest is unknown, however
for a nickel anyone could attempt to pick up the rear end of the truck.
The rules were simple; the tires must be held clear of the ground for a
minute and witnessed by at least two unbiased [hard to find] bystanders.
The winner would win the nickels in a large pickle-jar atop the meat display
case. Last I remember the jar of buffalos was still in place. Some said
Arlie, who was known to squeeze a nickel, had leaded down the truck's frame
and rear end.
On Saturday morning, with the Studebaker
carefully wiped down, all was ready for our grand debut upon the upper
crust of the local gentry. Father had carefully calculated our arrival
at Arlie’s so we would have a large audience. With the adults and
babies up front, Little Brother and yours truly sitting tall in the rumble
seat, we motored up to the gas-pump. Father in his best overalls and starched
white dress shirt stepped up to the pump, hesitated, glanced around to
insure he was seen and then began to slowly crank five gallons of amber
liquid up into the glass cylinder.(see note below)
Several cronies soon gathered around to share the time of day, evaluate
the car, discuss crops and strategize the war. Zeke Moody, Chairman
of the bench-warming elder Statesmen affirmed; Fords were far superior
vehicles to Studebakers. The entire bench agreed with a nod... punctuating
their decision with a salvo of tobacco juice. The salvos narrowly missing
His Honor's privates! In silent indignation, the Mayor rose from his nap
and retreated to a shady niche by the icehouse.
After wiping dust from my eyes and spitting
out some road gravel, Brother and I hopped down and swaggered inside. Clutching
the dollar bill Grandmother had sent me; I scooped an RC Cola from the
icy water of the drink-box and nonchalantly popped the cap. Taking a swig,
I tossed the bill on the counter asking Molly Sinclair, a classmate, for
two Moon-Pies, three Baby Ruth bars, two Paydays and a pack of salted peanuts
to pour in the cola. Little Brother followed suit. With goodies in hand,
we sashayed out and hopped back in the rumble seat for a little repast...
The year was 1944... Happy motoring!
Ah, the delicate ambiance of richly
tanned leather enhances the pleasure of dinning alfresco...