Bittersweet Car Memories

By Joe Rector

The dog woke me up before I was ready on Saturday morning. After taking her to do her business and making a pot of coffee, I sat down at the computer to check my email and Facebook for news and other things. Chuck Mier, a boyhood friend who lived across the street from us, posted a video of two sons hunting down their dad’s 1965 Impala. It took five years, but the men finally found the car, brought it home, and presented it to their dad. It’s a touching story that sparked memories.

My daddy, too, bought a 1965 Impala. It also was a “crocus yellow” color. The interior was black and sleek. For years, Daddy had driven a 1954 Chevrolet, a used one that he bought after it was a couple of years old. We piled into that car and traveled exclusively around Knoxville. After Jim and I began school, Mother decided she’d rather learn to drive than to always bum rides to her teaching job. After she earned her license, Daddy bought a car in 1962, a fawn-colored 4-door Impala. The seats were covered with clear plastic that assured the upholstery would stay clean and that our legs would be blistered when we sat on it in the summer months.

For some reason that became apparent a while later, Daddy traded that car for the Impala in the fall of 1964. He’d let Dal, my older brother, help pick the color and interior before he ordered the vehicle. Jim and I had finished a football practice, and we walked out to wait for someone to pick us up. Daddy and Mother pulled up in the car, and we whooped with excitement. The four of us cruised up Western Avenue to the Jiffy and ate hamburgers and French fries before making the trip home.

Daddy had been feeling bad since April of that year. His face remained swollen, and the family doctor told him his problem was his stomach and another told him it was allergies. By the spring of ’65, he’d been in the hospital a couple of times, and Mother finally called in another specialist who upon looking at him declared that he had lung cancer.

Dal was a senior in high school and was looking forward to attending the prom. Somehow, he managed to get permission to drive the Impala on that big night. Daddy was in the hospital at the time, so Dal promised he’d be careful, offered a thousand thank-yous, and left to pick up his date.

Dal drove away from the house that evening, but he didn’t travel more than a couple of miles. While passing a car on a narrow section of Ball Camp Pike, his right rear tire slipped off the road, and as he steered to correct the problem, the right rear fender made contact with a telephone pole. In the blink of an eye, that beautiful car and the prom were both crumpled.

I don’t think I ever felt worse for Dal than I did that night. Not only had he wrecked the car and ruined his prom night but he also had to make the journey to the hospital to tell Daddy what had happened. Dal said Daddy assured him that things would be okay and that he shouldn’t worry, but he felt terrible over the whole thing.

Not more than a couple of months later, Daddy passed. Mother had the Impala repaired and drove it; the ’54 Chevy became Dal’s vehicle. She drove Daddy’s car, but it never rode right. After dealing with it for a long time, she had a mechanic check it out. He told her that the springs and mounts were incorrect. They’d been put on at the factory and were for a Chevelle instead of an Impala. In 1968, Mother traded the yellow Impala for a Plymouth Fury.

No car we ever owned came close to being as pretty as that Impala. However, it lost its appeal and glow with the death of Daddy. The old ’54 Chevy stayed with us much longer, and Dal passed it down to Jim and me, and we drove it in high school and in college. It eventually gave up and became a fishing car for a man to whom Jim sold it in Cookeville. I miss that Impala and that old Bel Air, but more than that, I miss my daddy, even though it’s been 50 years since he left.

So, thanks Chuck Mier, for sharing the video that brought up some bittersweet memories.

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