When I turned fourteen I got my driver’s license. This was almost fifty years ago in the Texas Panhandle. We lived a long way from my high school and I had to ride downtown very early in the morning with Daddy as he went to work. He dropped me off and then, after school, I would either walk a few blocks to my grandmother’s house to wait for him to pick me up or my mother had to come downtown to pick me up. A third choice was to walk a mile or so through the warehouse district of town to my dad’s office and wait for him to leave in the evening. That was a choice that I did not make very often.
Because of this transportation arrangement, I began to hint broadly that I would be more than happy to drive myself to school if my dad would let me use his car or if I had my own car. However, in the late 1950s not many high school students were privileged enough to have their own cars. Therefore, my hints were only a half-hearted effort.
During my junior year in high school, my grandmother had a stroke and was no long able to drive. One afternoon she suggested that I take her car and drive on home. I had never driven her 1948 Plymouth, but I was delighted with the offer. I went to her garage and climbed into the seat but I was a bit dismayed to discover that the rear window was about the size of my hand. However, undaunted I began to back the huge, lumbering old car down her long driveway and past her portico with its large white columns. Suddenly I heard a big crunch and an even bigger thud. I jumped out of the car and looked around. I discovered that I had hit the steps of the porch with the back fender of the car and dislodged one of the big white pillars that, luckily, fell onto the grass. My grandmother and her housekeeper came out onto the front porch with looks of horror on their faces. Their looks only added to my own dismay at what I had done.
I called my dad and he very graciously came to my rescue. He surveyed the damage, probably muttering under his breath. He put the car back into the garage, propped the pillar back up under the portico, and took me home. In the following weeks, he had the fender of the car fixed and my grandmother’s porch repaired, but he never said a word to make me feel any worse about what I had done.
Eventually, the old, dark green Plymouth made its way out to our house. Occasionally my dad drove the Plymouth to work so that I could use his car for my own transportation needs while I was in high school. I steadfastly refused to drive the old green Plymouth again because I thought of crunching fenders and falling columns every time I looked at it. Because of my fear of driving that car, it often sat in the driveway at our house while I continued riding into town with my dad and having my mother pick me up after school. You can see the dark green car parked outside my dad's workplace in the picture to the left. It is the third car from the left. The picture must have been taken on one of those days that Daddy relented and let me drive his car to school.
When I left home for college my dad offered to let me take the Plymouth with me but I refused. I told him that I would rather walk than drive that old thing, so he said I could walk. I was on a small campus, and I felt very comfortable walking until the cold and snow and icy Panhandle wind came along. Then I began to have second thoughts about needing a car, and the old green Plymouth did not seem like such a bad idea after all.
Finally, during the Christmas holidays, I decided to take the Plymouth out for a test drive. My dad gave me much needed instructions on the art of using the choke in that car. Much to my surprise, I found that it was a very easy car to drive as long as I remembered how to manipulate the choke and was aware of the diminished view to the rear. I practiced driving it around town for a few days and decided that it was not such a bad car after all.
When I returned to school in January, it was with some pride at having my own set of wheels but a little embarrassment at having such a big old car. However, no one made fun of it, so I relaxed and began to enjoy being able to drive my friends and myself around town. One particularly icy, snowy morning I came out of the dorm and the weather was too frigid to walk across campus to the cafeteria. Several girls went out to start their cars and it was evidently too cold for them to start. I got in my car, adjusted the choke, turned the key and the motor began to purr as usual. I loaded everyone into my car and we headed off to the cafeteria. There seemed to be no limit to the number of people I could load into the spacious innards of my car.
Somewhere along the line, I began, with great affection, to call my car “Shifty” because of its standard transmission. I had several arguments with various friends that cars usually had girl’s names because they were temperamental. My argument for keeping the name “Shifty” was that my large green Plymouth was very strong and dependable like a man.
I drove my first car, Shifty, for about five years and had very little trouble with it even though I drove it back and forth across Texas several times a year while I was in college. I put nearly 100,000 miles on that car while I had it. When I finally graduated and got a job, I was able to buy a car of my own. I then gave Shifty to my brother, who was just beginning college. He drove Shifty for another few years before selling it for a better car. I have often wondered whatever happened to Shifty—such a wonderful, dependable old friend.
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