A Lesson From My Father

Except for a good round of golf yesterday, a really good time with my wife and my friend, Pete Toennies; my usual Friday Morning Golf; some reorganizing; and trying to get back on track with Sarah’s help (and Sarah really knows how to organize and work the current technology),  i’ve been pretty much useless since we got back from San Francisco.

Down? Don’t know. But it was sort of like limbo. Still i reconnected with more folks on Facebook, like Don Jones, who was raised in a home about two homes down from where my father was raised on West Spring Street in Lebanon, but his and my father’s rearing took place about fifty years apart.

Then i went to my rather amazing counselor, Martina Clarke, and attempted, as usual (as the captain of the prison (Strother Martin) in Cool Hand Luke demanded) “to get my mind right.” i told some stuff about me and wandered into my youth.

i recount here a lesson from my father i related to Martina:

Jimmy Jewell taught me many lessons, but most of them were by example. i watched; i learned. He was the force behind my mother’s discipline. i tried very hard to avoid that force while i watched him go about living and learned. Like his brothers and sister, he was a story teller, but he only really got into that with his three children later in life. Growing up, he was really pretty quiet, but i remember his lessons well.

When i was 14, he began to give me driving lessons.

In the autumn of 1957, a young man (whose name i shall not divulge here) was in my eighth grade class. He had failed a couple of grades and had just turned 16. He took the tests and got his driver’s license. i think one of his older friends gave him a ’54  Ford. He played hooky (this is the way i remember it, and although my memory is no longer as good as i thought it was, this is my story and i’m sticking to it). He invited two friends to go on a joy ride in the Ford. They drove around for quite a while. Much later that evening, they drove west out Leeville Pike, an old railroad bed turned country road.

Then they turned around.

Apparently, that is when the young man decided he would see how fast he could go. He was doing about 95 when the Ford hit a bump and launched into the air, coming down in the field to the south of the road. Unfortunately, there was one lone tree, a maple i think, which the Ford decided to hit coming down from its arch.

The guy riding shotgun on the bench seat was thrown out the window. i recalled he eventually succumbed. In thinking about it more, i have decided he lived but spent a long time recovering from a broken back.

The teenager in the middle was launched through the window and died instantly.

The driver was literally cut in half by the steering wheel.

My father, who was a partner and service manager of Hankins, Byars, and Jewell, was also the alternate wrecker driver when the regular driver wasn’t available. Daddy had the duty that night. They, the police i think, called after we had all gone to bed.

i did not learn what happened until they told us the next day at Lebanon Junior High School the three boys were dead. i learned the details and my father’s role from classmates and the rumor circuit. Daddy was one of the first to arrive, and he had to extricate the two dead boys. He pulled one off the tree and he pulled the two parts of the driver out of the car, passing them to the ambulance driver before he hauled the wreck away.

Daddy never said anything about what happened to his children. But he knew i knew.

That Sunday after church and our Sunday dinner, he told me to get into the driver’s seat of our new ’58 Pontiac Star Chief with the biggest GM engine and three two-barrel carburetors. He gave me directions. We went south on Castle Heights Avenue and turned west onto Leeville Pike.

After we turned, Daddy told me when i passed a car, i should not move back into my lane until i saw the head lights of the passed car in my rear view mirror. That was my first lesson about driving. It has stayed with me throughout my driving.

i was about to get my second lesson.

Roughly a couple of miles down the road on the other side of the road was what was left of the tree the Ford hit in the wreck. Lonely and eery looking in the grassy field, the limbs were shorn off but had been cleared by then. The tree, now really just a long trunk ascending toward the heavens was  bent away from the road. The bark had been skinned off the tree.

i knew what had happened there.

Daddy instructed me to pull off onto the shoulder of the road. i would like to think he nodded toward the tree. i don’t think he did. He didn’t have to say anything.

Then, he said, “Remember this when you are driving.”

That was it.

Best driving lesson i could have had…ever.

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