Both Hands on The Wheel

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Pass It On is a new, bi-weekly peek inside the heart and mind of Francis Pass…

Both Hands on The Wheel

The first car I ever drove was a big beautiful black and yellow two-door, hard-top 1957 Ford Fairlane.

It was our family car. And I was fourteen the first time I sat behind the wheel.

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I pulled out of the driveway and made a right turn. Dad warned me how dangerous driving on gravel roads could be. When I came to the top of a hill, he instructed me to always be over on my side of the road. Gravel roads aren’t as wide as highways and people tend to drive in the middle. That’s what my dad told me.

Yes. I was driving. And yes, I was driving illegally. But, back then, when you lived on a farm, you had unofficial, unwritten permission to drive a motor vehicle, regardless of your age. That way you could help out around the farm.

I was a very good driver. Except I had trouble keeping my hands on the wheel. Dad would shout, “Ten and two! Keep your hands at ten and two!”

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I preferred to drive with one hand on the steering wheel... because that’s how my dad did it. And I wanted to be like him. But he just wanted me to keep both hands on the wheel and both eyes on the road.

That was my first experience behind the wheel of an automobile.

Now, one of the first cars that caught my attention was a 1962 Chevrolet Corvette. What a beautiful machine. I can still see it gleaming in the sunlight on the lot at the Dongola dealership. Man, it was impressive.

Ado Karraker owned the dealership. Billy Brown was a salesman. And I delivered newspapers to both of ‘em.

One day, as I was on my route, Mrs. Brown came out of the house and said that Billy had told her how I was admiring that Corvette. Once I confirmed Mr. Brown’s claim, she said, “You know, you’d look good in one of those.”

I told her that I would like to have one. And she replied, “Well, you work like you’re workin’, save your money and you can buy one of those one of these days.”

From that day forward, I vowed to own a Corvette. Someday. Some way.

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Fast forward forty years to 2002. That year, I set three very ambitious goals. One of which was to buy a new Corvette.

And wouldn’t you know it... there on the lot at Ron Ward Chevrolet sat a brand new beautiful red Corvette. I stopped by and asked if I could take it for a test drive. But since this car would be transporting one of the queen candidates in the Herrinfesta parade, the salesman said no.

However, he did allow me to sit in it. I did just that.

But I couldn’t close the door. I had to lean way over to the passenger side just so I could slam the door shut.

My childhood dreams were shattered. I was too big for a Corvette.

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I finally had the means to realize a lifelong dream, and I couldn’t fit in the dadgum thing.

Patricia could tell I was heartbroken, so she drove me to the lake so I could sulk.

After my lakeside pity party, we started back home.

On our drive back, something caught my eye at the Ford dealership in Marion. So we took a last-second detour and pulled onto the lot.

There it was. A drop-dead gorgeous yellow 2002 Ford Thunderbird.

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Next to Corvettes, the Thunderbird was my favorite car. Clifford Needham, the banker in Dongola, owned a blue ‘57 Thunderbird with an opera window and a 312 police interceptor engine. It was quite the automobile.

The dealership was already closed, so I called Larry Padgett the next day to ask if I could take it for a test drive. And just like the first salesman, he also told me no.

Turns out the car was already sold. Someone had ordered it special. But, before the new owner picked it up, Larry said I could come over and sit in it.

And I did just that.

This time, by golly, it was a perfect fit. And comfortable, too.

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I called Patricia and asked her to drive over to the dealership. She did and we sat in it together.

At that point, we knew what we had to do.

I told Larry we wanted to order a Thunderbird of our own. He said he could... except it would have to be a 2003 with a different grill and more horsepower.

We ordered our Thunderbird that day, black on black with a blue pinstripe down the side. One of a kind.

Twenty years later, we still drive it. In fact, we took it for a spin the day after Valentine’s Day. It was 70 degrees, so of course we put the top down.

Driving in our Thunderbird is one of our favorite things to do.

But, truth be told, I don’t always keep both hands on the wheel.

Sorry, dad.

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Be well. Stay well. Thanks for readin’...

Francis Pass

P.S. – Ironically, my two Army buddies, Tim and Wayne, own Corvettes. One of these days, we’re gonna have us a Corvette/Thunderbird rally.