My Dad and His Toys
In his early life, my dad used only two vehicles: a 1950 Ford Custom Deluxe (car) and a 1950 Ford tractor. He only owned the '50 Ford car out right. He used the '50 Ford Tractor owned by Mrs. Verta Dobbs, when he and our family lived in the most-successful share cropping days of his adult life.
My dad was also stingy. This was the word of choice in his younger days. Point: if he went to a rural country store and saw two candy bars, one a Snickers and another candy bar with a similar brand for a nickel, he would head straight to the similar "Brand X" candy. But then he would try to negotiate with the store owner to get it for less. Stingy? Not really. His dad was raised this way. Frugal, efficient, making resources stretch to the limit for times were hard before they were known to be hard.
Before my mom and dad were old enough to date, a dilemma of him not having a car was not something that would daunt this special time of his life. He would simply hitch-up a team of mules to his dad's wagon and off he went. Mom and dad were a loving pair. Never ashamed of any PDA's, (public displays of affection). But dad was all the while respectful and frugal. Even with dating my mother. But she never minded this working trait of being able to save money and negotiate things down from an original price. Sometimes, as I was told, he would barter things in order to get other things that he needed to help in his farming or home-related project say, something to repair a leaky roof.
My dad (and mom) knew how to squeeze every nickel that he made. But when he would sell a bale or two or cotton or a few bushels of corn, there was money for dad and mom. And he would always think of her first by buying a new pair of shoes, dress, or both for her. My mother was the one area where he was not frugal. Although he wasn't accused of being extravagant, she didn't mind.
As the years grew, dad had his eye on a green 1950 Ford Deluxe and he was smitten by this car almost as much as with my mom. The man who owned this beautiful car had it up for sale and no one knew why, but this "mystery" never stopped dad from going at owning this car wide-open and with a vengeance. It was all he thought about besides my mom. The car that is. He would lay awake at night (I was told) and talk to mother about where he wanted them to go and what he could accomplish only if he owned a car. Not that he disliked horses or mules, it was just that times were changing and it was more stylish for a man and his wife to be seen inside a car. That was what made the difference. Being seen "inside" a moving machine.
It was a man think. There were even phrases in dad's day that were similar. "Ain't that just like a man?" was my favorite. But I don't think that (this) phrase was intended to build-up a man's self-esteem, but rather sting him with this playful choice of words. The feeling was untarnished. Dad did feel better at the wheel of his '50 Ford Custom Deluxe. He was more confident, talked smarter, laughed more and even smoked his unfiltered Camel's more stylish than those male Hollywood stars did on those cigarette ads see in most popular magazines.
There was just something about that 1950 Ford Custom Deluxe that acted like a magnet that drew men from everywhere when my dad and mom would park and get out to pay some bills. When the two came back, there stood about six men, all of dad's buddies, all wanting to look "under the hood," as men say. And dad would give them that confident smile and pop the hood revealing either an L-head straight-6 and 239 CID (3.9 L) Flathead V8, with a three-speed on the column. Not many manly men would dare say, "hot dog!" "man alive," or "just look at that!" for fear of being thought of as sensitive and weak by the females of the 1950s. Most of these men did whistle a few times making my dad grin even bigger.
Times were sure a-changing. Not Bob Dylan's first draft. And not my dad and mom. For them, they lived life at a one-day encounter not thinking much about tomorrow and forgetting the toils of yesterday--and loving each minute they had. Sure as shooting, the more that Henry Ford, owner, president of the Ford Motor Co., "retired" and let his son, Edsel bring in the changes, trouble started. Henry argued to keep things the same and things would prosper like always. The world at large didn't see it that way. As success kept rolling, so did inner-chaos of Ford Motor Co., which saw Henry (the father) Ford, growing more mentally unstable and Edsel almost ready to call it quits, enlisted for the military. When Edsel passed from succumbing of stomach cancer, his son, Henry Ford II took over to take over the failing motor company and all were singing "We're in The Money."
Not as much with my dad who did not really want to change things. He liked his share cropping to make my mom a living and with my sister, Doris, that made three to feed. But for some reason, I think it was mom's two brothers, my uncles, Gert and Grady Lee, who had moved to Adrian, Mi., to work for one of the big automobile factories which looked great to my dad and the family, so they, (much like Jed Clampett and family) loaded up the 1950 Custom Deluxe and headed up north.
Things went good for dad, mom, and sister in this big metropolitan and one addition was being able to walk to the store to buy almost anything--meats, vegetables, pastries, even beer. Yes, the suds for the American working man sold by the bucket for a nickel for six for fifty-cents or so. My dad had to have a job and according to Gert and Grady, they were already working at the Ford Motor Co., and making good money compared to making zero to less money in the south where they came from. Dad applied to a few companies and one hired him for the third shift as a drill operator. The only rub with dad was staying awake for as a share cropper, he was used to rising by dawn and working until dark. Then it was supper (for rural southerners) and to bed no later than 8 p.m.
On Sundays, Gert and Grady had volunteered to take mom, (who by the way was one of their sisters), my sister and let my dad follow the street names and numbers to ease him into knowing which building was which and the quickest way to get to work and home. This was working as smoothly as Orville and Wilbur learning that man could fly so life had become settled for this family.
That was until . . .don't you hate to hear those words? I do. Because it is the absolute signal that things are about to change abruptly. This was one of those abrupt times. My dad's sister had written him a heart-wrenching, sob letter informing him that he needed to come home to Alabama in order to be of help with her to help their dad and mom. My mom did not agree with going back to poverty. My sister knew better than to get involved, so dad (like Jed Clampett again) loaded up the 1950 Ford Custom Deluxe and headed back home. I can bet that this was one sad ride.
Dad went back to share cropping to make a living. Mom and my sister helped in the house while she was not in school. But one day . . .don't you hate those words? It is an absoute sign that things are about to get scary. This was one of those times. I was being delivered at the nearest hospital that mortal man could drive. In jumped mom, my sister, and dad who had just lit his unfiltered Camel and va-room, the 1950 Ford Custom Deluxe flew from Hamilton to Haleyville, Ala., to the only hospital in that area.
The rest of this story is really like going into a time warp going back toward where I lived when I published my hub about "My Year of Almost Starving to Death in The Years, 1959-1960." The first place where "I" was taken was with a modest-sized home, very clean, dry and my dad would jump on his Farmall Cub tractor to do some share cropping as he said was more of a calling than a job. Life was a feature film at a drive-in theater with the projectionist drunk. "Wasted," "Three sheets in the wind." This wasn't a bad thing because at my young age, I hardly remembered any of the mistakes a young one makes and I did remember the few good things I enjoyed.
Now back to that same shack where I started knowing life from a dream. This was not a house, but a pure, bona fide shack where my family and I lived when I published my hub: "My Year of Almost Starving to Death in The Years, 1959-1960," and in this one year, I remembered almost everything. Life was rolling on all four's. No recaps. Ready for action
So here we were. Living in a real house that was three times bigger as that dirty, cold, wet shack where we lived when our greedy land lord, Malone Fikes, kept a vigil trying to find out what life was when you are living in poverty. Like it was his business. The laws have really changed since Fikes was boss. In 2017, a land lord can no longer barge right into a renter's home, pilfer like a hungry thug, and take what he pleases or if he is caught and found guilty will head to where all low lives go. Prison to begin with and hell if the heathen doesn't find Jesus.
Before the show goes any further, I should tell you about that one time when I, at age six, learned the value of an imagination. Frankly, without pulling punches, life without television, laptops, Rock Music, bites. Life without only a Wizard AM radio is not that good, but it beats throwing rocks at the seven chickens pecking for food while the rooster crowed at dawn. Yeah. Life was worth pulling back the covers each morning. Nothing like it.
I was sitting on the top step of our front porch doing nothing harmful, but thinking how I had nothing to do but watch my mom do her housework. Yeah. Some entertainment for a six-year-old. I know that you are weary of the sarcasm. I began to gaze at dad's 1950 Ford Deluxe Custom and gaze more and more. Then, (and this is how it really went down), it had rained and rain is normal for summer. I picked up a handful of black mud in my small right hand. Then to make this action seem exciting, I started doing an impromptu monologue. "Yeah. 'Bones' Jeffries, head mob boss of Chicago, left his car sitting alone on a dark sidewalk. SPLAT!" I unloaded my handful of black mud smack dab onto the driver's side of dad's '50 Ford. "But oh, no. 'Bones' thought that he had spotted me with my newest F.B.I. agents and SPLAT!" I let my left hand go with another handful of black mud onto the passenger side windshield."Now my imagination coupled with my seering color commentating made me feel as it I were on stage somewhere in New York City doing some TV show. "You filthy pig! You killed my best man. 'Billy Taylor' was my best man! Take that, SPLAT! and these two guys will give you this: SPLAT! SPLAT!" It was finally over. "Bones Jeffries" was finally dead. His gang now in handcuffs. I could almost believe that I was not standing in a huge puddle of mud now standing around dad's '50 Ford--but when reality hit me. I shook with fear. His car did not have one green spot with all of the mud that I had thrown.
By now my sister, Doris, had got off of her school bus that was forced to go from that asphalt farm/market road all the way to our shack on that lonesome gravel road covered on each side with pine trees. The students who were still on the bus were all sticking their heads out of the windows trying to catch a peek at this "shoot out." My sister ran into the house and brought my mother because as my mom cried, "Kenny, you are gonna get your butt beat when your dad gets home." She was right. Mother's like her were seldom wrong.
So for the next two hours, Doris and mammy drew bucket after bucket of cold water throwing it over the car which was showing signs of being clean. Meanwhile I just sat on the porch and crying my eyes out. I was actually sad. I did not really mean to make such a mess. But at the same time, I was having the time of my life. Remember, we had no TV, internet. Just a Wizard AM radio. Time went too fast. I wanted dad to be diverted to go to some bridge that needed repairing and since he was on the Bridge Crew for our county, that was a definite possibility.
No dice. At the same time everyday, there he stood in the kitchen getting himself a cup of freshly boiled coffee that mom always brewed for him at the same time everyday. She knew her husband loved coffee and other things. When you work on the Bridge Crew, that means tough work, mister.
"Did it rain this afternoon?" my dad said while enjoying his first afternoon sip of black coffee mixed with a lit unfiltered Camel. This was dad's daily ritual before we moved to a bigger, better home. And at any minute, after the beating that I was dreading, that might not be such a bad idea. Getting his mind off of the imaginary rain that was "me" but again, no dice.
"Uhhh, I don't remember seeing any," my saintly mom said in a low, humble voice. Doris nodded in agreement as she studied her History homework. I was sitting very still on our ragged old red cloth couch trying hard to look sad.
"Well, I just wondered at that big puddle of water standing near my Ford. Must have been one of them quick summer showers. Let's eat," dad said without beating my scared butt with his genuine leather belt. Besides, supper to him was "the" highlight of his day--work or no work. Some people love breakfast. Dad loved supper. Nothing more about dad's '50 Ford, the mysterious "rain," or my beating. I think that it was at this time of my life that I began to think about God.
Doris, after she had ate, went to her room to finish studying. Mom cleared the table. Dad lit another unfiltered Camel, took off his work boots and sat down in his favorite chair in the living room. I suddenly got very sleepy.
"You sick, son?" dad growled.
"No, dad. Just tired. Think I'll go to bed," I replied.
"Yeah, that sounds good. You go on to bed and get to sleep. I have something to talk to mother about when she gets through in the kitchen," he said while exhaling another puff of his Camel.
That something that dad was going to talk to my mom about was us moving to a bigger, more-spacious place that some man told him while he and the Bridge Crew were on a lunch break at some way out rural country store. This man and dad were buddies apparently. He told dad about a place called the Dobbs Place owned by (a) Verta Dobbs, a widow woman who wanted someone to do some share cropping. That was why dad was so distracted about not beating my butt because of the water around his Ford.
So skipping now to a week or two into the future, there we sat, inside this huge framework lumber home with 10 foot ceilings, a big fireplace in the living room, kitchen, and a large bedroom for Doris and her husband-to-be who was planning on getting married in a month. This sliver of information was only to be known by mom and Doris. Somehow dad was not in such a good mood with the moving on his mind.
All in all, it was now spring time and now dad's favorite time of year besides Christmas. It was planting time for us in the "poverty pocket of Alabama," northwest Alabama in Marion County. Mrs. Verta Dobbs was a very humble, kind woman and all who knew her loved her. She and her husband, Zollie, had made the Dobbs Farm look like a postcard painted by Norman Rockwell. It was that neat and spacious. Dad had acres of cotton and corn to plant, harvest, and carry to market all the way down highway 129 to Hamilton to where dad would take the harvested cotton to the James Ray Ginning Company and then when the corn was picked, he would transport that to the Ballard Milling Co., also in Hamilton.
With this being said, this segment is designed for Mrs. Dobbs' 1950 Ford tractor--red and gray and looking like a new penny shining in the sun. Dad was so happy. He was now smiling more and even laughing more. It was not because Verta Dobbs was all that good to him. She was. Make no mistake. And it was not due to Doris going to marry a guy who she had been dating for awhile and things got serious as he got a job at a gas station in Hamilton fixing flats, pumping gas and doing general gas station work. He loved it. Dad loved it because he had a job.
Dad loved where he was all because of Verta Dobbs' '50 Ford Tractor. What a beauty she was. And dad couldn't look any more prouder than when he was sitting atop of this machine turning the soil was like a ballet that had been a choreographed by some famous ballet company in New York City. Dad knew more than a thing or two about his Ford tractors. He knew even more about his green 1950 Ford Custom Deluxe that I had splatted mud all over this gorgeous car when I allowed my imagination to get the best of the car.
One of my favorite things to do after school and on Saturdays was to sit near one of his fields just to watch my dad run that Ford tractor tilling the soil around the cotton and corn to make it have a bigger yield and ever so often I would see a puff of smoke coming from the direction of his head for he loved to ride that Ford tractor and smoke his unfiltered Camels. I think that this gesture was because it was something he had learned from the Army a few years back. Army men smoke. And drink, but dad said years ago that he only enjoyed a bottle or two of Pabst Blue Ribbon in the PX with a buddy he had in his company barracks. They talked for hours, he said.
In later years, my dad left this love of share cropping because the market on farm products were not to where a small farmer like dad and other small operators could turn a dollar. So he went to work in a town called Winfield, Ala., at Continental Conveyor and Equipment Co., where he was trained to be a production machinist. He was doggone good at this job as well as share cropping.
In his last years, he owned a 1932 Ford truck that he sold for a profit. And a 1955 Chevrolet pick-up truck that mom had worked in a textile factory in a small town, Detroit, Ala., to pay for two snow tires for dad to put on the back of his pick-up truck.
In the very last few years, dad also owned a 1971 Chevrolet pick-up truck, short wheelbase, three speed on the column. A nice truck. I loved that truck, but he traded it for a 1978 Chevrolet Silverado that he kept until his health got so bad that a friend of my sister bought the truck to give dad a tidy little piece of change to help with his hospital bills.
As I was finishing this piece, it dawned on me just now at the number of Chevrolet trucks that he owned, traded or sold. But it was his 1950 Ford Custom Deluxe and Mrs. Verta Dobbs' 1950 Ford Tractor that stole his heart . . .and kept it.
© 2017 Kenneth Avery