© Jim Wilson 1999

    "Come help your Papa find his pipe and car keys!"  Mama would shout, and the search was on.   We children made a game of doing any kind of a chore, searching for the pipe and keys was like looking for the golden eggs at an Easter egg hunt.  The six of us scurried about combing the house for the lost items.   Whoever yelled, "I found his pipe!" or I found his keys!", won the imaginary prize.   For as long as I can remember, Papa smoked Royal Blue smoking tobacco in a briar or cob pipe.   He usually carried the pipe and the blue sack, with a yellow drawstring in his coat pocket, but in the evening he put his pipe down wherever he happened to be when he finished the last smoke.

    Papa's keys were usually left in the car, but when he did take them out, they seemed to vanish.   Sometimes they were left in the pocket of the trousers he had worn the day before. When the items were found, his daily routine began, he put his hat on, picked up his brief case and was ready to go. He got in the car, turned the ignition on and raced the motor while filling his pipe, but didn't light it.  He backed out of the driveway onto the street, drove a few feet, stopped to light his pipe then went on his way.   As he drove with the clutch about half way in, the car's racing motor could be heard for blocks away.   When little children who lived on the street heard his car, they ran to the curb to wave and yell, "Hi, Papa!"

    Papa was in the automobile business soon after cars were made available to the public.  He was one of the first dealers in Crittenden County and had the agency for Durant and Star cars.   Of course at that time, when he sold a car he had to teach the buyer how to drive it and to do minor repairs, as there were no repair shops in the rural areas.   Cars were always an important part of his life.   He remained in the business until 1926.

    All of the children and most of the grandchildren were taught to drive as soon as they could manage to see above the dashboard.   If I went to the fluorspar mines with him, he let me drive on the country roads. When we got back to Marion, I drove from Main Street to the end of Depot Street, where we lived.   Being only 11 years old, I had to sit on the edge of the seat almost in a standing position to be able to see over the dash board and reach the clutch, brake and accelerator.   Memories of times spent with my Papa in his car, are precious.

    We had a brand new Model "A' Ford sedan when he was teaching my sister Jennie to drive, she didn't put the brake on when Papa told her to and ran head on into the big black walnut tree at the end of our driveway.  I shall never forget the sound of the car hitting that walnut tree or the shower of walnuts, like huge green hailstones, pelting the top and hood of our new car.   Luckily, we weren't injured and the only damage to the car was a dented bumper.   The only thing Papa said was, "Well, I'll be damned," in his soft and gentle voice.   Jennie always said, she wouldn't have been hurt more if he had yelled at her, but he never raised his voice or lost his temper with us.

    Our cars took a lot of abuse from being driven through the woods and over rough rocky roads to get to some of the fluorspar mines.   When he traded cars, the car he bought, within a few months looked just like the one he had traded in.  There wasn't a place as big as a football on his cars that didn't have a dent or scratch.  Papa always bought black cars with the exception of his last one, a blue-green, 1953 Buick Special.   It wasn't abused, as were his other cars, because he no longer drove to the mines.   In his later years his driving became a real concern for us.

    When David was a little boy, he went for a visit with Papa, before we realized what a danger it was to be in the car with him.   They drove down to Salem, Kentucky.   As they were going back to Marion, David said, "Papa, why are you driving on the wrong side of the road?" He answered, "Well, I'm trying to hit all of the pot holes I missed going down there.

    The last time I rode in the car with him, we were on a winding, two lane, gravel road.   He drove on the wrong side of the road most of the time.   When he met a car, he barely gave it room to pass and remarked, "Did you see that damned fool? He almost sideswiped me."   When I cautioned him about driving in the wrong lane he said, "Now, I'll have you know, I know how to drive. I've taught half of the people in Crittenden County how to drive an automobile and if you'll notice, when I see a car coming, I always scoot back over on my side."   After that, I swore that I would never again ride in a car with him at the steering wheel.

    When he was in his mid 80's He stopped by our house in Calvert City, Kentucky, after returning from a business trip to Nashville, Tennessee.   He said, "You know, they've changed all of the streets in Nashville and I had a hell of a time finding my way around.   I was driving along and all of a sudden I heard all of these horns honking.   When I looked up it looked like every damned car in Nashville was headed right towards me."   I realized, with horror, that he had been driving the wrong way on a one way street.

    Soon after that incident, he decided to move to Calvert City, to live with us.   His driving continued to worsen.   We were in constant fear of him having an accident, as he invariably decided to drive in to town at a time when traffic was the heaviest.   He never shook the habit of stopping to light his pipe.   When he was in the small town of Marion, Kentucky, everyone knew him and waited to see what he was going to do next.   But he was on U.S. Highway 62, with traffic from the chemical plants and big gravel trucks from Reed's Crushed Stone, trying to deal with his car in the middle of the highway.

    Papa finally realized that he shouldn't be driving, but still got dressed every morning in a suit and tie as if he was going to work.   He got in his car, turned the ignition on and raced the motor for a few minutes, but didn't put it in gear.   He did this every morning for about a week.   One morning he started the motor, but didn't race it, he just sat there and let it idle for a while.   He turned the ignition off, got out of the car and handed the keys to Jim our 17 year old and said, "Son, you can have her, I've bought insurance for you."   He sat down in a rocking chair on the carport.  Reaching in his pocket, he dug out his pipe and sack of Royal Blue.   Holding the bowl of the pipe in his hand he filled it, tamped the tobacco down with his thumb and put the stem between his lips.   He fought the wind for a light and puffed with satisfaction.

Title and text are © Millie Wilson 9-27-1996
and may not be used without permission

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PASSING THE KEYS