The Forgotten Sunday Driver

I saw an old friend today. He watched me crawl into my twenty-year-old beat-up truck and couldn’t believe I was still driving it.

“I don’t understand why you still drive that thing,” he said.

Well, it’s not difficult to understand. Vehicles are important to the ordinary people I come from.

When I was a kid, we would take long Sunday drives to nowhere. I wonder what happened to the American Sunday driver. There was a time when working-class families used to hop into station wagons and just play.

I remember one such Sunday after church. My father was on the sofa, his necktie hanging half mast. He was scanning the sports page.

“Yankees beat the Red Sox,” he said in mock amazement.

If there’s one thing I was brought up to dislike, it was the Yanks.

“Glavine pitches shutout in Atlanta. Unbelievable…”

“Gashouse Gang gets slaughtered again, fourteen to nothing, holy…”

And so on.

Usually, after he finished reading, he’d put on a pair of piddling clothes. Then he’d change the oil, organize the garage, mow the lawn twice, or repaint fifteen houses using only one arm. My father could not sit still.

But on this particular Sunday he said, “Hey, let’s all go for a drive, what d’ya say?”

My mother was knee deep in preparing cornbread and whatever else was on the menu.

“A drive?” she said, “But I’m cooking dinner.”

Sunday afternoons were the only time we called it “dinner.” Every other day of the week it was “supper.”

So my father looked at me. “How about you, Tiger? Wanna take a drive?”

A Sunday drive was big. On the occasions my father took me on these outings, I knew for certain that one thing was going to happen: Ice cream sandwiches.

We piled into my father’s ‘74 F-100, forest green, rusty, with welding equipment on the back. Oxygen canisters, cables, air hoses dangled every which way.

We drove for hours, meandering left and right. A ball game crackling over the radio. Finally, we reached a crossroads like the kind you see in old western movies. A four-way stop, cutting across scalped fields reaching toward the end of the world.

“Pick a road,” he said, throwing the gearshift into neutral.

“Me?”

“No, your grandmother. Yes you.”

I took my time because you never know with roads. Especially when they all look sort of the same. All roads do not lead somewhere good. Some lead to dead ends. Others carry you into crowded cities where professional people race along busy streets hurrying to their next nervous breakdown.

“Come on, Tiger. Ain’t got all day.”

“Let’s go that way.”

“Okay.” Then he kicked open the door and jumped out of the vehicle. “You take the wheel.”

It’s funny. In my mind’s eye, my childhood is like one of those topographic maps of a mountain range. Some of my memories are puny foothills, so small they blend into the beige valleys. Other memories are Pikes Peak.

I was no stranger to driving. I had been practicing since I was nine. My father was from a generation where every red blooded kid learned to drive while seated on his father’s lap.

My father was like most men of his time. He worshiped automobiles. In his conversations with others somehow he always steered discussions toward his long list of previous Fords which dated back to John Quincy Adams. And people’s faces would turn to wood.

So I crawled behind the wheel. I drove empty roads. We were riding about twenty miles per hour.

“Easy on the clutch,” he said. “Don’t push’er so hard.”

I learned that driving is work. Not hard work, but definitely not leisure. It occupies the subconscious like yoga, prayer, or watching the Golf Channel in your underpants.

You’re constantly upshifting, downshifting on steep grades, coasting on downhills. And it’s good for the mind.

The Ford pulled hard to the left and we heard a loud pop.

My father swore. I won’t tell you what he said, but it was a combination of words I hadn’t heard before. A tour de force of cussing. He only talked this way when my mother wasn’t around. It was pure joy.

We pulled into a filling station. We fooled with the bottle jack for a few minutes. My father sang under his breath:

“Kuh-Kuh-Kuh-Kay-teeeeee,
“Beautiful Kay-teee,
“You’re the only one that I a-duh-duh-duh-dore!

“When the muh-moon shines,
“Over the cow shed,
“I’ll be waiting at the kuh-kuh-kuh-kitchen door!”

It was the first time I ever helped change a tire. And I know it seems like such a pathetic thing to say, but it was one of the greatest moments of my life.

Afterward, we went inside the station, hands covered in grease, clothes all a mess. My father opened the Coke cooler. He bought two Coca-Colas and two ice cream sandwiches.

He told the man behind the counter, “My son is a man today. He just changed his first tire.”

The man shook my greasy hand and said, “Sorry kid, I’m fresh outta trophies today.”

When I entered our house that evening my head hardly fit through the doorway. We ate ham and navy bean soup and cornbread for dinner. My father read the newspaper box scores while he ate. I can still see him sitting there even though he’s been gone a long time.

Every vehicle brand has its disciples. But now you know why I drive a Ford.

32 comments

  1. Tawanah Fagan Bagwell - January 5, 2020 7:13 am

    My late husband loved Ford F-150s and I still have his red one. I just sit in the truck when I want to feel close to him.

    Reply
  2. Steve Winfield - January 5, 2020 9:01 am

    Meee too. My E-250 is the best vehicle I’ve ever had. 200,000 miles. Tires, brakes, batteries & just recently, 1 alternator. Sure wish I could find that 1 hubcap I lost.

    Reply
  3. GaryD - January 5, 2020 11:10 am

    Ford man here, too. F-150 4×4. You can’t beat a Ford truck.

    Reply
  4. Sonya Tuttle - January 5, 2020 11:13 am

    Memories are invisible comforters.

    Reply
  5. Cynthia Harmon - January 5, 2020 12:30 pm

    I’ve heard from others that my dad drove little sport cars before I was born. But he drove Ford’s all my life.

    Reply
  6. Meredith Smith - January 5, 2020 1:08 pm

    That was a sweet story Sean. That speaks a lot about your Dad. ❤️

    Reply
  7. Donna - January 5, 2020 1:25 pm

    WOW… now THAT dusts off a whole bunch of loooong forgotten memories!! Thumbs UP Sean!!!

    Reply
  8. Debbie Harbin Hining - January 5, 2020 1:37 pm

    Loved your story!! You’re a great writer! My husband still has his 1975 Ford-150. It’s his and our dog’s favorite vehicle!

    Reply
  9. Jennifer Faircloth - January 5, 2020 1:39 pm

    Another Ford fan here! We drive a ‘63 1/2 Ford Falcon, Rangoon Red. My father-in-law bought it new & sold it to us when we were building our first house. Much rather have had it than a front porch!

    Reply
  10. Russ Letson - January 5, 2020 1:40 pm

    vehicles that you can put in park don’t have a clutch…

    Reply
  11. Teresa Tindle - January 5, 2020 2:01 pm

    My dear Sean, you always bring back the best memories. My mom and daddy always took my brother and me driving on Sunday afternoon. My what fun. We went no where in particular. And then as always we had a nice cream cone. The big and newest thing was soft serve ice cream. My brother and I thought we had died and gone to heaven. The little I miss the most, time spent with the people I loved the most and miss the most.

    Reply
  12. Edna Barron - January 5, 2020 2:03 pm

    The older Ford vehicles were awesome. One of my favorites was a 1949 Ford convertible. My girl friend and I drove it (her boy friend’s car) all through high school. Wonderful memories. You have a super day, hugs, Edna B.

    Reply
  13. Berryman Mary M - January 5, 2020 2:26 pm

    What a wonderful story, Sean. My daddy taught me the most important life skills: how to drive a car, how to read a map, how to write a check and how to balance a checkbook. Things I use everyday of my life. Thanks for your reflections on our of those small but very important moments in a young person’s life.

    Reply
  14. Ann - January 5, 2020 4:17 pm

    Soooo visual…. and a memory to cling to. A beauty!

    Reply
  15. Marilyn - January 5, 2020 4:38 pm

    I love your stories, but also enjoy reading the comments from other fans. Thank you all for starting my day on a positive note.

    Reply
  16. Robert Chiles - January 5, 2020 5:03 pm

    I had a cousin who taught me important things- how to shoot a pistol, how to cook a steak, how to drive a car fast, how to take pictures, how to change wheel bearings. He died of stomach cancer years ago and I miss him still.

    Reply
  17. Linda Moon - January 5, 2020 5:11 pm

    I know and love a couple of fathers who cannot now, nor could not then, sit still. They’ve both had crossroads that remind me of Jimmy Stewart running from that crop duster in North by Northwest. For me, learning to drive using a 3-on-the-column gearshift was challenging fun along with some hard work. That’s a good memory. Being a disciple of fathers shapes the “whys” of our lives. And our minds’-eye memories of fathers can also lead to that high mountain -Pike’s Peak – or to a small Hill of Oaks. I’m glad you drove the Ford, and maybe I’ll ride up to Pike’s Peak with you one day!!

    Reply
  18. Catherine in Augusta - January 5, 2020 5:15 pm

    What a beautiful memory, Sean. And, it was told beautifully as well. Your father would be so proud of you these days!

    Reply
  19. Linda Moon - January 5, 2020 5:54 pm

    oops—-it wasn’t JIMMY STEWART in “North by Northwest”….it was Cary Grant! But Jimmy Stewart had a crossroad in “It’s a Wonderful Life”, similar to some Ones we know and love, Sean.

    Reply
  20. Melanie - January 5, 2020 8:40 pm

    Beautiful memory. Thank you for sharing. And clearly your friend hasn’t priced new or used trucks lately. Makes your eyes pop out. ( p.s. I drive a 2005 F150 ). ❤️

    Reply
  21. Jenny Young - January 5, 2020 9:03 pm

    The glory of an ordinary day.

    Reply
  22. Chasity Davis Ritter - January 5, 2020 9:44 pm

    That is such a beautiful memory to share with us. I smiled at thanksgiving standing outside with my boy when I realized we had 5 Ford vehicles parked there between his truck, his dads, my Escape and the two work vehicles. You made me smile today Sean. You always do.

    Reply
  23. George Durham - January 5, 2020 11:03 pm

    You remind me of Ludlow Porch on wsb Atlanta. He celebrated ordinary things & ordinary people

    Reply
  24. Karen - January 5, 2020 11:30 pm

    Our family used to take Sunday drives. Sometimes we would make up a picnic basket. There were no fast food places then. Mama would fry chicken, make potato salad and chocolate cake from scratch, and fill a plastic pitcher with iced tea. We would spread a blanket on the ground and have lunch. Sometimes we would stop for hot chocolate.
    My husband drives a Ford truck , & I drive a Ford Explorer. You brought back good memories. I love your stories of your father. Thank you.

    Reply
  25. Julie Patterson - January 6, 2020 12:53 am

    My dad used to sing the same song. Thanks for sharing your memory and bringing one of mine to the surface.

    Reply
  26. Janice, Silverhill - January 6, 2020 3:17 am

    I can relate to your childhood being valleys & mountaintops. I can so relate to that. Love this cherished Pikes Peak memory. Thank you for sharing.

    Reply
  27. Lita - January 6, 2020 5:58 pm

    Thank you, Sean.

    Reply
  28. Lee Q. Miller - January 6, 2020 6:41 pm

    Sunday drives often included a picnic lunch or early supper snack on a huge rock in the Pigeon River close to Gatlinburg. One sunday ended up===lost=== in Dumplin Valley on top of Mount Horab East Tennessee!

    Reply
  29. Patsy Mercer - January 6, 2020 10:29 pm

    Sean, This is like reading several Norman Rockwell paintings. it was a wonderful time for a lot of kids, even old folks.

    Reply
  30. Margarett Jane W Vaught - January 8, 2020 5:57 pm

    your dad and mine were very similar – and yes, I sang Katy when I saw it printed there ! My dad and I sang a lot while we drove or while we fished, he was my HERO —

    Reply
  31. kmoon56 - February 10, 2020 4:55 am

    My parents and I would often go for a Sunday drive, after stopping at the Dairyland for an ice cream cone. We’d meander out into the county, just driving and looking – cows, pastures, old rotting homesteads, hawks and eagles. Just enjoying the scenery. What a way to spend a Sunday afternoon! Thanks for the memories!

    Reply
  32. Karen - February 10, 2020 6:33 am

    My Daddy was a Ford man too and he drove his trucks for 20+ yrs too. We went on Sunday afternoon drives as well! Good memories!

    Reply

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