Tuesday, June 23, 2009

See the USA in your Chevrolet -- NOT!

My blogger friend Reamus (aka Michael Burns of Carlsbad, California) took his trusty RV steed, La Coachasita, out onto the open road again a few weeks ago for yet another look at America and Canada, and thus far on this particular trip he has logged over 8500 miles.

In his most recent post, he happened to mention the Platte River in Casper, Wyoming, and I remembered that I learned to drive a car at the other end of the Platte River, where it empties into the wide Missouri near the little town of Plattsmouth, Nebraska. Descriptive name, don’t you think? Rather like looking around New Orleans and deciding to call it Mississippismouth, Louisiana. But I digress. Let me begin at the beginning.

Some of my friends in Texas began driving around their parents’ farms when they were 12 or 13, and not only did all of them obtain their driver’s licenses as soon as they legally could but also owned their own vehicles at 16. Compared to these societal norms, our family was distinctly underprivileged. Both of my parents knew how to drive, but they did not own a car. My dad rode in a carpool with several other men to his job at an aircraft factory 34 miles away in Fort Worth. Neighbors picked me up and took me to Sunday School. I rode to school with a teacher who lived nearby and happened to be going in that direction herself. My mother bought groceries by picking up the telephone and ordering what she needed from one of the grocery stores in town; the owner pushed the cart up and down the aisles and filled the order herself, then had it delivered by panel truck to our house. We did not have indoor plumbing, so we had no home washing machine; Mama rode with a neighbor into town each week to do the family laundry at the local washateria, an early version of the modern-day laundromat that was fitted out with wringer washers and tubs. Our house was a regular stop on the routes of the milk truck and the bread truck and, dare I say it, the ice man, who delivered 25-pound chunks of ice for our ice box twice a week.

I know. It was a different world.

My mother’s favorite joke was the one about the country wife who committed suicide, and when her husband was asked whether he knew of anything that might have led her to do it, anything about which his wife might have been depressed, he said, “Nothing that I can think of. Why, she hasn’t been off the farm in fourteen years.”

So 16 came and went. And 17, and 18. At 19, after a couple of years in college, I got a job for a few months at Santa Fe Railroad in Fort Worth (I rode the bus) and then joined the Air Force. At 20, I was sent to Florida, where I met the future Mrs. RWP. Fast forward about a year and a half. I was now stationed at SAC Headquarters in Bellevue, Nebraska. She was still in Orlando. We were engaged to be married. Because you never really miss what you never had, I still did not own a car. The future Mrs. RWP, however, owned a 1961 Ford Falcon.

One day in March 1963 I was sitting at my desk in the underground command post at Offutt Air Force Base when this thought formed itself in my brain: “It certainly is going to look awfully strange for the bride to drive away from the church.” So I asked Captain David Means, a co-worker and church friend, if he would teach me to drive so that I could get a driver’s license before my wedding in May. He agreed to, but because he felt that Bellevue was too busy a place to learn how to drive on the streets, we went south a few miles to the smaller town of Plattsmouth on several successive Saturdays. In a few short weeks, during which Captain Means’s hair turned noticeably grayer, I learned enough on the hills of Plattsmouth about driving to obtain a Learner’s Permit from the great cornhusker State of Nebraska. Armed with that, I flew to Orlando, married Mrs. RWP, and drove all the way back to Nebraska with the required licensed driver in the passenger seat.

Only later did I learn they meant a licensed Nebraska driver.

Unlike the green monster above, our own trusty steed was cream-colored.


  1. A great post, Rhymsie! I'm just shaking my head over the fact that your girlfriend owned a car and you didn't, and not only that...you didn't know how to drive one, either!! I'm not making fun of you. As you said, it was a different world.

  2. This was cool. My first car was a 1960 Ford with push-button starter (or something). My youngest son, at 20, doesn't drive. don't really know why, he learned how. I know, because I taught him. I got my license at 17. After 4 tries :)

  3. Great story, RWP. My daddy, for some unknown reason, decided that he would teach me to drive when I was 10 years old! Why, I'll never know. But, that didn't happen. My first time behind the wheel, I backed the car, a 1939 Chevy, into the willow tree in the driveway (no damage to either tree or car), and he gave up that idea. I started driving, for real, when I was 14 and could get a New Mexico learner's permit. I had some fine times in that old car; too bad stock car racing wasn't a big thing at the time, I would have loved it. --wanna be speed-demon Pat

  4. P.S. The willow tree was actually BESIDE the drive way, not in it! Must still be feverish.

  5. This was fascinating.

    I didn't get my driver's license right away either because I was too nervous. But I think I got mine when I was 17.

  6. mine was a 1957 cheverolea impla with the three lights on each side in the back and curvy curves i drove it through my dad's fron't window

  7. Very interesting to read about a poorer white American family in days gone by. Thank you.
    P.S. Who is that gorgeous gal leaning on the Falcon? I bet she was from Alabama as she appears to have a pair of banjos hidden under her dress.

  8. It was a choke. Not a starter.

  9. i know that prim and proper mr, bob ryhmes will disagree at the placement of this blog since it is off subject, but i must have a forum for this startment or statement...you asked why i deleted a blog with twenty comments ...well it was about my church being called back to jackson county spring hill missouri and i was not supposed to tell anyone outside my mormon faith church that and i was also out of line to let every know that chocolate was vermot in my church among some factions....my purpose in the first place was to let loren christie know my funny views and here my church got wind of it so i deleted the whole post before i was hit by lightening...oh and hi bob

  10. When I was growing up, my dad's car was a white 1961 Ford Falcon. Gear-shift on the steering column, no seatbelts. I loved that old tank, and he drove it for nearly 20 years. Once after a particularly long day at work, a couple in a newer car rear-ended him with a loud crunch. They were prepared to pull over, but he gave them a "never mind" wave because he was too tired to deal with it and the car was so old at that point he didn't care. When he got home, he looked at the car's rear and found no damage at all. Evidently, the crunching sound was all from the other car.

  11. Wow, a lot of comments (for me, anyway)!

    Thanks Jeannelle and Tracie and Pat and David and good old YP and even flurrious!

    We have hied us to the hinterlands (translation: Tampa, Florida) in a ten-year-old Toyota sedan and took the dog along just to make things complicated. I don't know how much blogging I will be doing for the next week or two. Huzzahs to all, especially Mr. David Barlow of Ephraim, Utah, who apparently risked life and limb and excommunication to tell us he wasn't supposed to have told us that parts of his church don't approve of chocolate. We live in a strange world.