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The '59
by Lonnye Sue Sims Pearson

The 1959 Chevrolet Biscayne that Daddy bought in the fall of 1958 quickly became a quirky family friend. Somehow Daddy always knew how to coax her into one or two more trips.

At one point the ignition quit. I don’t know if money was tight or Daddy just wanted to repair her himself. Either way, he showed me how to use a screwdriver and a friend to get her going no matter where we were . . . until he could replace the ignition cylinder.

I learned not to go very far without backup. Several times while I shopped downtown at Jay’s or Kamien’s, the Biscayne refused to turn start. But the trusty screwdriver was always close at hand, and usually I could find someone to turn the key as I leaned under the massive hood to make the connection spark her into life. This scenario played quite a few times in front of Western Auto or Ben Franklin’s or Owen’s Drug Store.

At first I was embarrassed, but when I realized that a little girl like me could control a big machine with just the touch of a screwdriver and no help from a boy--well, I loved it!

Once, Jane Harper, Becky Pounds and I took off to Leland and Greenville in the ‘59 to shop till we dropped at Jacob’s, SteinMart and a couple of other now defunct department stores. After several hours of forking over the hard earned babysitting money, we climbed into the old girl for the trip home. You guessed it!

Click . . . click . . . CLICK!

Becky looked at Jane. Jane looked at Becky. I looked for the screwdriver under the seat.

“Hey, Becky, scoot over here and turn the key when I tell you. OK?”

With a groan and a look over her shoulder at Jane that spoke volumes, Becky complied.

“Don’t forget the clutch!” I said as I jumped out of the car.

Just raising the hood on that old tank took great effort, but I’d done this so many times I knew just how to handle it. With the hood up, I disappeared underneath with my screwdriver and positioned it just so connecting the energy spots and yelled, “Now!”

As if the old girl heard me, her engine jumped to life. When the ‘59 was on, she was ON! Purred all the way home.

Eventually (after a particularly rainy Delta day), Daddy hot-wired her so I didn’t have to get out with the screwdriver anymore. I didn’t even have to use a key. I just removed the wire nuts, touched the wires together, and off we went. And then he replaced the ignition cylinder.

I almost missed the adventure. Almost.


Lonnye Sue Pearson is a Mississippi Delta native who now lives in North Carolina.

Read more of Lonnye Sue’s stories at USADEEPSOUTH:
Hail to the Chief Drive In
Elvis Lives!


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