by Lonnye Sue Sims Pearson
In the fall of 1958, Daddy bought a brand new Chevrolet Biscayne. I was nine years old and thought we had struck oil somewhere. She was a beauty!
The '59, as we ultimately dubbed her, was long and wide with rear fins that one could sit on, stand on or lie on without making a dent. For lack of a more precise description (only because I really don't know the name of that exact color), we'll call her green. Oh, there were a few other Biscaynes in town, but none the color of ours. That shade of green made her instantly recognizable.
The steering wheel was at least two feet in diameter and had the proverbial aluminum inner ring that when pushed sounded the horn. The full, bench seats were covered with …well, some sort of magnificent material, I guess, because Mama and Daddy added clear plastic seat covers that looked a little bit like today's favorite package protector - bubble wrap.
For comfort, the driver was awarded a loose seat of sorts that served to protect him from sticking to the seat in warm weather. She had a standard transmission and anyone who has ever driven a car from that era that had power nothing knows that she cornered like a tank.
The air conditioning (which came factory installed) consisted of two knobs under the dash that, when pulled, opened vents so that occupants in the front seat could enjoy the fresh air and little vent windows that could direct fresh, hot or cold air directly into the face of anyone sitting up front. The back seat passengers enjoyed non-child proof windows that opened completely for their comfort on those warm, summer days in the Delta. Forget the hair-do. Let's get some air in this thing!
There was a constant battle between Mama and Daddy on front seat position. Daddy is 6'2"; Mama was barely 5' tall (she claimed to be 5'2", but that simply wasn't true). Every time Mama drove the '59, she had to move the seat to the maximum forward position. She tried to remember to move it back before she exited the vehicle, but sometimes she forgot. Mama also added a single cushion to sit on while she drove. Even then she looked through the steering wheel instead of over it.
It wasn't easy for Daddy to move the seat back while standing outside the car, but he had to maneuver it as far back as it would go just to get his long, lanky legs inside. And, of course, there was the extra cushion to move, too. However, it was a sight to see when he forgot to move the seat forward for Mama when he got out. It took several, vigorous scoots for her to move that massive bench.
We were a one-car family back then, so the '59 was a well-used vehicle. But she was so well cared for that there wasn’t a scratch or a dent in her body until yours truly began to drive. So, it is way past time for me to 'fess up . . . at least to some of them.
I got my driver's license in 1964 at the age of fifteen.Within weeks I was being sent on errands to the post office, Gold Star Supermarket (that was only two blocks away), Nance's Cleaners, or my grandmother's house on North Bayou Road.
After all, my parents reasoned, she took driver's ed and passed. Poor parents! Although I learned to change a tire by myself and parallel park, I should never have been turned loose so quickly. I suppose all parents make that mistake.
Anyway, one of the first little accidents happened at Gold Star Supermarket on the corner of Fifth Avenue and Court Street. I had pulled into the tiny parking lot from Fifth Avenue at a slight angle to the left toward the outlet on the Court Street side so that I could just ease out forward rather than making that treacherous reverse onto Fifth. When I came out of the store, someone had blocked the outlet so the reverse was inevitable. At that time there was a square, concrete pole on the corner of the lot. I never had any idea what its purpose was . . . still don't.
Well, somehow I forgot about the pole, miscalculated the angle and, when the opening I waited for came, shot out of the parking lot in reverse. Yep. You guessed it. Caught that pole with the front left fender hard. For the first time in six years the '59 had a dent. Sorry, Daddy!
Another time I was on my way to Jane Harper's house. She lived on Shumate Drive right across the street from the main entrance of Delta State College off Sunflower Road. I saw the garbage truck stopped on the right just about two houses south of Jim Hunter's house. I had plenty of room to turn onto Shumate even with the cars lined up at the stop sign waiting to turn onto Sunflower Road.
Now here’s where my memory gets a little foggy. I thought I had room to pass between the garbage truck and the waiting vehicle next to it. It would be a tight squeeze, but hey, I passed driver's ed! So I carefully made my way, watching the car to my left so as not to graze it, when I heard an awful scraping noise. Instead of stopping then and there, I just continued and pulled into Jane’s driveway with fear and trembling. Yep. There it was. A tiny little scratch that started at the front and squiggled all the way to the back along the right side of the car. That one I never owned up to.
Someone must have sideswiped me while the car was parked in front of Simmons’ Drug Store! Sorry, Daddy.
The last little accident happened around 1980. I had borrowed the '59 while my car was in the shop. I worked at Cleveland Glass Company at the time and always parked in the parking lot on the west side of the store. Paul Braswell had installed a large sign made out of pipe at the front of the lot. As I left for lunch, I reversed her right into the sign and bent one of those beautiful fins straight up. Unfortunately I was having lunch with Mama and Daddy that day, and they were expecting me to be there at 11:15. I walked in, sat down to lunch and burst into tears. Imagine a 31-year-old woman crying at her parents' lunch table over a bent fin. I could barely get the words out.
I- backed- the -'59- into- the- sign- at- the- glass- company. The right fin is pointing to the sky even as I speak. They laughed; I cried.
The '59 was put to rest by a woman trying to get home one day when she dropped a cigarette and bent over to retrieve it. The '59 was parked in front of Mama and Daddy's house well out of the way of drivers who were actually watching the street. It had been relegated to that spot when Daddy bought the 1970 Chevrolet Monte Carlo. He still used the '59 as a work car and left the Monte Carlo at home for Mama. At any rate, the woman plowed into the '59 and pushed her up onto the sidewalk. Daddy’s car was totaled. Blue book on it was less than two hundred dollars, so Daddy called Frank Michael who came and hauled her to his junk yard.
Frank told me several years later that someone came looking for a tire tool and a jack for a '59 Chevy. He took them out to where the '59 squatted and opened the trunk. Frank said everything in there looked brand new. My Daddy, at least, knew how to take care of cars!
Lonnye Sue Sims Pearson is a Mississippi Delta native who now lives in North Carolina where she teaches English. Lonnye Sue is a regular contributor to USADEEPSOUTH.COM. Read more of her stories by clicking these links:
Hail to the Chief Drive In Movie
Lions & Tigers & Bears, Oh my!
The Most Marvelous Southern Pageant Ever
Write Lonnye Sue at this address: DeltaMiss
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