I hope this note finds you well.
Prior to the 1930’s you were either a child or an adult, there was very little in-between. On the farm the idea of being a teen or teenager had little meaning, you could either do a full day’s work or you couldn’t. This was especially true in Arkansas and more so in rural communities.
As the 20th century progressed mandatory school attendance and consolidated schools with their big yellow buses changed what was required of these in-between humans. Another element that changed the lives of these young adults was the private automobile. Prior to WWII the automobile was a luxury; after the War it became a necessity.
As early as age nine I was taught to drive a tractor, mastering the mechanics of steering, braking and accelerating. On Gum Ridge, the farm where I was raised, we had an old WWII army surplus Willis jeep; it and I became the best of friends.
In the spring of my fourteenth year I studied the little blue driver’s book and took the driving test to get my learners permit. I was short enough that I had difficulty seeing over the steering wheel, I made up for my lack of stature in my technical skill behind the wheel. Not only could I parallel park but I could back a four wheeled double-axle trailer into a tight spot. Alas, they didn’t ask me to demonstrate that skill.
As luck would have it, my mother, who worked at the court house, got pregnant about this same time and my father approached the trooper about granting me a hardship license. The stated purpose was for me to run errands, drive her to the grocery and pick up my sister at school. It just so happened that the officer was a good friend of my father and the permission was granted.
I became the first among my peers to drive the streets of Augusta legally. That is not to say I was the first to drive because a several of my friends were taller and looked older. Having a license at early age was a mixed blessing: on occasion I could go by, pick up some of my friends and go to the Dairy Skipper or the Pie Shoppe (our version of a McDonalds or Sonic); on the other hand I had to run errands for my mother when I had other important things to do or pick up my pesky younger sister and her friends and chauffeur them around.
The car that became my chariot was a 1956 Ford Fairlane sedan with bench seats. It was two tone, light green and white, with an automatic transmission. It was not a cool car. You had to listen carefully to make sure it was running. It wouldn’t lay rubber on the pavement if my life depended on it. It was nothing like the cherry red ’57 Chevy convertible driven by one of the rich older kids or several souped-up jalopies that cruised the streets of town.
Even though the car wasn’t cool, being able to drive it changed my life.
Have a nice journey.