Stuck in forward
The Ford Fairlane had seen better days. It looked nice enough – baby blue with a dark blue interior. And what a bargain! It could travel more than a week on one tank of regular gas.
But the right turn signal refused to blink. Mama was forever rolling down the window, extending and bending her arm to indicate a turn. Daddy never bothered with hand signals, figuring other drivers would know he was turning when the car, well, turned. The AM radio played for only about 13 minutes at a time and only then when you hit it firmly over the glove compartment. The car had no air conditioning and each summer Mama, with her fair skin, sported a sunburned left arm from propping it on the open window as she drove. A horrible odor inhabited the Ford Fairlane. Aunt Ola hid a purple boiled egg in the ashtray during an Easter egg hunt one year. No one found the gooey mess until six weeks later when it had a life and odor all its own. We never found any bleach or air freshener powerful enough to destroy six-week-old boiled egg odor.
Despite its shortcomings, the Ford Fairlane did its job. It took us to church each Wednesday and twice on Sunday. It took us to the Crossroads Store during the week for bread and milk. It even took us to school on rainy days when Posey Road, unpaved and slippery, proved too great an obstacle for our school bus.
Our favorite outing, though, was the Saturday morning trip to town. Town was Newnan, Georgia, a small southern city centered around an historic red brick courthouse. An old clock rested in the tall tower of the courthouse and chimed on the hour.
A trip to town meant stopping at the bank and the Red Dot Grocery Store. Town meant Kessler’s Department Store filled with tables of dress material on the first floor and M&M’s at the candy counter on the second floor. Town meant new school shoes every fall at Mr. Hartman’s shoe store. Town meant the Bible Bookstore where, I promise, Mama could browse for hours. Town meant automatically bypassing certain stores that Mama labeled too expensive.
The best stores and the prime parking spaces in Newnan were positioned around the Court Square. Standing in front of each parking space were tall gray meters that ate loose change and, in turn, granted you permission to park for an hour or two. Like everyone else, we parked around the Court Square each Saturday. We did, that is, until the day the Ford Fairlane refused to go into reverse.
The Fairlane was parked that day directly in front of the Alamo Theater. Only a few minutes remained in the parking meter. With children and packages safely inside, Mama started the car, placed the gearshift into the proper position, and pressed the gas pedal.
The motor hummed but the car sat completely still. Mama shifted gears several times but had the same result. Opening the hood, she saw nothing she understood and closed it with a bang. A few balding men playing checkers on the courthouse steps glanced up in annoyance.
Mama finally asked two complete strangers to assist her in pushing the car backward onto the road. Then the Ford Fairlane operated perfectly – as long as we moved forward. Mama drove straight home and reported the condition to Daddy who was not overly concerned.
“Better to get stuck in forward than stuck in reverse,” he said.
The car was never repaired. I firmly suspect that the price tag associated with a new transmission was the reason. But we were now aware of the car’s limitations. Thus, our Saturday trips to town simply took a different slant.
Parking around the Court Square was impossible. Instead, we drove round and round, up old streets and down back alleys searching for unique places to park – places that required no backward motion from the tired old car.
Inconvenient? Yes. Troublesome? Absolutely. But we discovered a world beyond the Court Square. We saw places we had never seen before! We parked along magnificent tree-lined streets. We parked near brilliant flower gardens outside tall Victorian homes. We parked near railroad tracks and in cul-de-sacs. We parked on a grassy field near the county jail. We parked near the Feed and Seed store where baby chicks lived in a wire pen just inside the door. We once parked near a Texaco Station where the owner kept an alligator named Gus in an old battered Coca-Cola cooler.
We always found a place to park. Always. Parking actually became more of an adventure than a nuisance. The secret was that we always looked forward and were willing to travel new roads.
Daddy traded the Ford Fairlane one autumn day for a green GMC pickup truck with perfect turn signals, a perfect radio, and no boiled egg odor. The truck had a straight shift on the floor and ever gear, including reverse, worked flawlessly. Mama was pleased. Daddy was pleased. To my horror, we returned to the old way of doing things. Every Saturday we parked on the Court Square, fed the gray parking meters, and saw the same sights. Convenient. Uncomplicated. Disgustingly routine. Completely boring.
Reverse is a good thing for Ford Fairlanes and GMC pickup trucks, I have decided. People, though, are meant to move forward – looking ahead, traveling new roads, and discovering the adventure that only the future holds, knowing that whatever our destination, God is already there.