The recent lawsuit of Tajie Major on behalf of her husband and fellow Lebanon native, Earl Major brought back some great memories of Earl and his cherished 1967 Porsche 911.
In 1973, Earl and I reported to Destroyer School for our six-month department head course and picked up right where we had last seen each other in Lebanon the summer Earl had graduated from Castle Heights (1961). Of course when we realized we were in the same classes, I invited Earl over to our Navy Housing home at Fort Adams.
When he pulled up out front, my jaw dropped. Earl was driving a 1967 tangerine Porsche 911. Several adventures were to develop around that car, Earl, and me.
After we completed about half of our courses in early autumn, Destroyer School held a regal ball. I planned to take the mother of my older daughter Blythe and then my wife, Kathie Lynch Jewell to the affair. She bought a beautiful dress. I got out my formal Naval officer dinner dress whites. The dance was held at the Marble House, the former summer “cottage” of Alva and William Kissam Vanderbilt completed in 1888. The Marble House is lesser known than The Breakers, Cornelius Vanderbilt II’s former summer digs but still impressively opulent.
Earl, single at the time, decided not to go.
Instead, he decided to travel to Stamford, Conn. to a shipyard where hatch covers for World War II Liberty Ships of could be purchased. The problem was the hatch covers would not fit in a Porsche 911.
The two of us came up with a solution when I told Earl I also would like a hatch cover. We would switch cars for that Saturday. Earl would take my 1972 Toyota Corona station wagon to Stamford, buy the hatch covers, and bring them back to Newport. I would drive my wife to the ball in the tangerine Porsche 911.
Early Saturday morning, Earl drove to our quarters for the exchange. He said he needed to go cash a check at the base Navy Exchange, which was across town about six miles away. He said we could drive each other’s car to the exchange and ask any questions we might have about the cars. It sounded like a good plan to me. Then as I moved to the Porsche, Earl mentored, “Be sure to keep it about 3000 RPM.”
For those who don’t know, a 1967 Porsche 911 was one of the most powerful sports cars in the world with a four-speed standard transmission. Also, downtown Newport, R.I. has some of the most narrow streets in the country because much of the town remained as it was when our country was being born. Many of the streets still were cobblestone and not much wider than an alley. My drive to the exchange was as harrowing as driving a standard transmission Johnson’s Dairy truck from the Dairy at the corner of West Main and West End Heights through the square to Hankins, Byars, and Jewell Pontiac only having driven automatic transmission cars before.
I kept the RPM above 3000 for most of the way, practically living in second gear with the Porsche ready to leap forward every gut wrenching foot of the way. My teeth were grinding. My knuckles clinching the steering wheel and gear shift knob turned blue. Sweat popped out on my forehead. The startled fear on pedestrians’ faces as I passed them on the narrow streets barely recorded in my brain. But I made it…barely.
Earl greeted me as I emerged from the devil car, eyes wider than a saucer. When I told him of my wild ride was something Mister Toad could never imagine, Earl chuckled.
“I meant you should keep the RPM above 3000 on the highway,” he explained.
I nearly cried.
Kathie and I went to the ball at the Marble House with no further incidents with the Porsche. We were admired for her beauty and the splendid vehicle. Earl went to Stamford and came back with two liberty ship hatch covers. Eventually, I did a terrific job of finishing the hatch cover, and it was a grand (and large) coffee table for many years. With a glass top, it is now Maureen’s sewing and work table.
I cannot look at that table without thinking of Earl and my Grand Prix ride through Newport 41 years ago. Now I smile, but I didn’t smile then.
Jim Jewell, a retired Navy commander lives in San Diego but was raised in Lebanon. His book, A Pocket of Resistance: Selected Poems, is now available through Author House, Amazon and Barnes and Noble online. Jim’s email is firstname.lastname@example.org.