A little incident in the big Buick

Published 9:24 pm Thursday, August 1, 2013

By Kermit Hobbs

Recently, I stated that I had grown up in the 1950s, “when everything was wonderful.” Since then, I’ve decided that maybe those days weren’t as wonderful as I’d like to remember. Things that seem humorous in retrospect were anything but humorous at the time.

Back in those days you could get your driver’s license at age 15, and like most boys of that time, I did. My dad had a big ’54 Buick that was his pride and joy. Even though the car was five years old, he kept it in immaculate condition. It had a soft, cushy suspension that floated over bumps as if they weren’t there.

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Unfortunately, the car was made before the advent of power steering and power brakes. Rather, it had a big steering wheel that was supposed to give you enough leverage to manage it around the curves. The brake pedal had a long stroke so you had to plan your stops a little earlier than you do nowadays.

My dad took me out on lots of occasions so I could drive our old pickup around the country roads before I took the test to get my license. Getting a driver’s license was probably the most important event in a boy’s life. It meant you were no longer a boy. You were a man.

In the summer of 1959, I began to drive the car on dates. I had a new girlfriend who lived a few miles out in the country from Suffolk. I’ll call her Maggie. She lived a short way down the road from two of my cousins.

One of my dates was on a Sunday afternoon, when I had planned to visit Maggie at her home. My route took me along the roads near my cousins’ house, and of course, I was driving the Big Buick.

On the radio, Lloyd Price was singing, “’Cause she’s got…personality, personality….”

As I drove, I came up on Jeff and Steve and a bunch of boys I knew playing football in a field by the road on the right. They saw me coming and figured out where I was headed. They all started pointing and hooting at me, as if to shame me.

Right at that point, there was a slight bend in the road to the left, just little one. No problem, I thought. I couldn’t allow them to humiliate me, so I thought I’d just give them a casual wave with one hand just to let them know I wasn’t bothered.

The problem was that as soon as I took my hand off the wheel, the car decided not to make the curve. I tried to correct it, but it went right into the ditch in front of all those boys.

The ball game stopped immediately, and all the guys came running over, saying such comforting things as, “Boy you really put it in there, didn’t you?” or “I hate to think what’s going to happen to you when your dad finds out about this!”

If I’d had a cyanide pill, I would have taken it. It was the darkest moment of my life.

I sheepishly got out and, making what excuses I could, I walked down to the farmhouse close by. Mr. Harrell let me use his telephone to call my dad and let him know what had happened.

I had the best dad in the world. He didn’t get upset at all, or if he did, he didn’t show it. He said he’d be right there. By the time he got there, Mr. Harrell had hooked his tractor up to the car and was pulling it out of the ditch. Praise the Lord, there was no damage beyond a few scratches that I later rubbed out with rubbing compound.

I had also called Maggie and told her I had had a “little incident” with the car and would be late getting to her house.

I did go on to Maggie’s, and we spent the rest of the afternoon playing Pollyanna with her sister and her boyfriend. I don’t think I won. Mercifully, none of them asked any questions about my “little incident.”

I could tell though, they knew. Everybody knew.

Kermit Hobbs Jr. is an accomplished Suffolk historian and businessman. Email him at khobbs5@aol.com.