Writing about Earl Major and his Porsche 911 brought memories of my introduction to automobiles more than 2,000 miles and 54 years from the Southwest corner.
My father was qualified to teach anyone how to drive. He had the reputation of being one of the best, if not the best automobile mechanic in Lebanon. But he really didn’t teach me a great deal by direction or example.
He would say, “Let’s go; you drive; here are the keys.” I would climb into the driver’s seat of the 1955 Oldsmobile or the 1956 Pontiac (officially a Hankins, Byars, and Jewell car) and go for a ride while he sat silently in the front seat.
When I turned 16, I got my driver’s license, a story previously recorded here.
I became the driver of my mother’s 1958 Pontiac Star Chief. I believe my father actually got the car for himself, but took the option of air conditioning (yes, it was an option back then) and automatic transmission for Mother, who always drove our nicest car. The Star Chief carried the biggest engine Pontiac made in that era of muscle cars and three two-barrel carburetors. It could sit up on those wheels and howl. Of course, that didn’t happen when my mother drove it.
Shortly after I secured that precious license, the Castle Heights Key Club held an evening meeting in a chapel classroom. I asked my parents if I could take the car rather than walk the two blocks. Surprisingly, they agreed with the admonition to come straight home after the meeting.
Of course, I was sixteen and rarely listened to what adults told me unless they were coaches. After the meeting, I asked my friends Mike Gannaway and Jim Gamble if they would like to get a shake at Snow White (back then, Snow White was a new hamburger and ice cream mecca for teenagers). They, of course, agreed. After all, I was the first of us with a real driver’s license. Satisfied with our milk shakes, we headed back to town. Being my first time driving without parental supervision, I took the liberty of hitting about 50 mph on West Main, then a 30-mile per hour speed zone.
The Lebanon police caught me just before I reached Joe Grave’s service station next to where Oak Hill Drive is today. The policeman wrote me a ticket. I sheepishly took my friends home. After parking the car in our driveway, I came into the den shaking in my boots. Suffering from a teenage superiority complex (most folks would call it “stupid”), I decided to take the offensive.
I knew my father had received a speeding ticket about a month earlier. Walking into the house, parents and siblings were spread out on the various chairs and sofa watching television.
“I pulled a ‘Daddy,’” I said trying to be as cute as I could be.
“What do you mean?” my mother, smelling a smart aleck kid in their midst, queried me.
“Well, I just got a speeding ticket.”
I shall not elaborate on what happened next. But it was not pretty. The fact that I did follow explicit instructions and drive straight home added to my misery.
At the breakfast table two days later, my father informed me he and I would be going to the courthouse together Saturday morning. I had to go before a judge then. Mid-morning, my father and I headed to the square. Because of my father’s reputation and Lebanon being a real small town back then, he had arranged a private session with the judge. I was unaware the meeting was arranged between the judge and my father.
I was too frightened to think about any of that. Parking outside Seat’s Studio, that old courthouse looming before me had me quaking. We entered, climbed up those worn wooden stairs, and went to the judge’s chambers. The room was small, dark, loaded with big law books. The aroma of cigar was pervasive.
Unfortunately, I do not remember the judge’s name. He was a large, older man (gigantic he seemed to me). He did not yell, or threaten me, but he did tell me I could end up in jail if I got another ticket.
When we left, my father asked me if I had learned my lesson.
It was probably the most effective chewing out I ever received.
But I must confess after a while, I sped again.
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.