In 1969, when I was 13 1/2 years old, my family (me, Dad, Mom, my younger brothers, Keith and Eugene) took a trip in our brand new Buick Sport Wagon to New Madrid, Missouri where my dad had grown up and lived until he was in his 20’s.
Our new station wagon was nice. It was a pretty cream color with wood-looking side panels and a tinted split-roof window above the middle back seat that was called a “Skyview”. Even if it made us kids roast to death under a hot and sunny day, despite the tinting, it was great being able to look up and watch the blue skies and the passing clouds. That Skyview window was even better at night, especially when there was a full moon out, watching the stars twinkling bright over our heads.
There was also an additional third row seat that faced the tailgate in the back cargo area that could fold down flat. It was very handy whenever we took our Grandma or other kids somewhere. My brothers and I would often fight to sit in those third seats because we liked to wave at the people driving behind us, or sometimes in my brothers’ case, give not so friendly hand gestures for no reason, just to goof around.
My dad grew up on a 300 acre farm that was not that far from New Madrid, Missouri. New Madrid is a sleepy, little town in the boot-heel, located right on what is called the Kentucky Bend (sometimes called the New Madrid Bend) of the Mississippi River. It still only has a bit over 3,000 people according to the 2010 census, and it is the county seat, the biggest town in the New Madrid county.
We got a taste of how things can be quite different in the South than in Michigan during our trip there. My dad taught us kids early on that the only way to drink ice tea was with sugar in it, like most Southerners do, but my mom couldn’t stand to have any sugar in her tea, hot or cold. I remember we stopped off in some small Kentucky town for lunch on the way down and all of us, except for my mom, ordered ice tea. She specifically ordered an ice tea but with no sugar in it.
The waitress gave her a strange look as if my mom was an uncultured bohemian as she told her, “Ma’am, all of our ice tea has sugar in it.” My mom got exasperated as she asked the waitress, “Well, you have tea bags, right? Put a tea bag in a glass of ice water and just don’t add any sugar to it!” The waitress politely murmured, “Yes, ma’am” and walked away shaking her head. My dad couldn’t keep from laughing at her as he explained to my mom, “We’re in the South now, sugared ice tea is the only way they serve it.” My mom just sat there with her not-too-happy expression on her face.
She was even more unhappy when the waitress, long after the food had already been served, finally brought her out a tall glass with ice and water, with a tea bag on a separate plate and several packets of sugar on there as well. She disgustedly unwrapped the tea bag, plunked it into her glass, then noisily stirred it and stirred it with a spoon until she got some of the tea flavor into the water. She said a few times under her breath, “Is this supposed to be Southern hospitality?”
I will never forget my first sight of the Mississippi River. We began to go up and up a long, tall ramp to an ever taller bridge that spanned the river. When we were finally on the bridge, I gasped at the width and the size of the Mississippi. It made the Saginaw River, which was the biggest river I had ever seen at that time, look like a creek! It was so beautiful, with many barges and other boats traveling up and down on both sides.
For quite a ways we drove down what my dad called the levee road that was right along the western bank of the Mississippi. The levee road was like a big, long dirt ridge or embankment that had very steep sides with a road on top of it. My dad explained that that ridge was to keep the little towns and farms from being flooded out when the Mississippi River over-ran its banks.
I didn’t care what that road was called or why it was built, I just loved being able to have that huge river in plain sight for many miles. It fascinated me. It seemed like it was a living, breathing entity with its own soul and personality. I think that is when I developed my passion for rivers and the Great Lakes, as well as for boats and ships of all kinds.
We finally arrived at New Madrid and I was not expecting it to be such a small, seemingly insignificant place. The small city of Flushing, about 6 miles away from our home, seemed to be the same size as New Madrid. I knew that it was the county seat and so I assumed that it would be about the same, larger size of Flint, which is the county seat for us in Genesee County.
Like Flushing, New Madrid had only one main street where most of the businesses were located, with smaller streets and lanes radiating out where the residents lived. My dad slowly drove down its main street, pointing out the businesses that were still there from when he was younger, and also exclaiming about the ones that were no longer there.
He also pointed out my Uncle Ross’ barber shop at the other end of the town and proudly told us that he had been the only barber there for over 50 years. And even though he was “retired”, my uncle still went down to the barber shop and worked there a few days a week for the man who had bought it from him.
Then I saw her: the house of my dreams. Facing the end of the main street was a beautiful, large, gracious creamy-yellow confection of a mansion. It was on the top of a small hill, with a velvety-green lawn that sloped up to its front steps. The tall-ceilinged porch had a white triangular shaped front roof with several tall, carved white columns supporting it. There was a side portico where I could easily imagine aristocratic ladies in their lace-trimmed silk dresses driving up in their carriages and being handed down by liveried footmen.
There were many tall, stained glass windows on both floors that were symmetrically arranged on either side of the front entrance. She was so lovely, she took my breath away. The only thing that ruined my vision of what a Southern plantation home could look like were the tacky green and white striped cloth awnings that hung over each of those wonderful windows.
I asked my dad, “Whose house is that? Who lives there? And why, why, why would they hang up such ugly awnings that ruined the looks of that beautiful house?” He replied, “That house was built just before I was born by a local rich banker who lost his money in the Depression. The County Health Department has long owned it and they probably put up those awnings to keep out the sun and save on energy costs. And what’s wrong with those awnings? They look okay to me.”
I sighed as I thought that my dad must not have any sense of what is beautiful and graceful if he couldn’t see that those awnings were so tacky.
That house, called the A.B. Hunter Home, was built in 1910, in the Greek Colonial style. It had been long used by the New Madrid County for its Health Department but it is now privately owned once again. Here is a picture of what she looked like with those unfortunate awnings that still cannot dim her loveliness and please click on the image to see a much bigger and better picture:
It was late afternoon when we arrived in New Madrid and my dad soon took us through other streets to where my Uncle Ross and Aunt Eula lived. Uncle Ross was my dad’s much older half-brother and we had seen them only one time before when they had come up to Michigan to visit my dad and his sisters. My uncle and a few cousins were now the only relatives still living in Missouri.
I liked my Uncle Ross but I didn’t care for Aunt Eula that much. They did not have any children and I think she clung tightly to that old proverb that children should be seen and not heard. In other words, she didn’t seem to care for kids that much.
They had a small house with only 2 bedrooms but they had a large back yard that had a small garden with vegetables and flowers in it. There were also several pecan trees as well as 3 beehives. Uncle Ross always sent us a huge box at Christmas filled with delicious pecans from his trees and many jars of his honey, yum!
My mom and dad were given the 2nd smaller bedroom and us three kids had to sleep on Army cots set up in the dark, dank basement. Those cots were horrible to sleep on. Not only were they very uncomfortable but if you rolled over in your sleep, the cot would flip you onto the hard cement floor. We quickly learned we had to not move a muscle, even in a deep sleep, so that we would not be unceremoniously tossed out with a rude awakening.
I was 13, Keith was 12 and Eugene was 10. We were like other, regular kids with a lot of energy and curiosity. My Aunt Eula would set her thin lips into a disapproving grimace as we would run through their yard chasing each other, or even worse to her, chase each other through their small house. We were doing that when we accidentally bumped my mom and dad’s suitcases into the bedroom wall, causing a slight crack in the plaster.
She must have either complained directly to my dad or most likely, complained to Uncle Ross who then said something to my dad. So he ordered us to go downtown and roam around and play during the week we were visiting.
That was fun for a few days. The county jail was on one corner along the main street and there were several prisoners who would yell at us from their barred windows to get them some beer or cigarettes. We would rudely yell back at them, calling them jail birds or drunks, and then they would cuss back at us while one of the deputies would go outside and run us off.
We roamed through the stores and businesses and I got a rude shock when several people asked me if I was Doyne’s girl, and when I said, “Yes, I was”, they would tell me that they remembered seeing me when I was 6 months old when my mom and dad came down to Missouri for a visit. Then they called me “Punkin” which apparently was the baby nickname my dad had called me then, even though I do not ever remember him calling me that before.
Well that was the biggest joke to my brothers who would not stop teasing me by constantly calling me “Punkin” any chance they could. So of course I had to cuff them or smack them a few times. That is the older sister’s privilege…until they got bigger than me a few years after that anyways.
Our visit there was quite the summer highlight for that little town. We were even mentioned all by name in the local newspaper. My dad was loving all of this attention from his boyhood town and he began to act in a manner quite unlike his normal self.
My dad was a very frugal man, many times bordering on downright cheap, but not on that trip. He uncharacteristically gave my mom a lot of money to buy new clothes and shoes and school supplies in some of the local stores because we were due to start school again in a couple of weeks. That made no sense to me because we would just have to pack all of that stuff up and haul it back to Michigan but we took advantage of this unexpected buying spree.
I had of course my favorite rock groups and I was just beginning my collection of 45 records (that eventually grew to over 300 that I still have to this day). So I was given money from my dad to buy some records and books and magazines. I didn’t know who this new dad was but I wondered if we could keep him and take him home with us and leave the old dad behind.
He took my Uncle Ross and Aunt Eula and the rest of us out to dinner and self-importantly picked up the check for the whole meal. We all bought dusty New Madrid, Missouri knick-knacks that indicated that tourism was not an especially thriving industry in that little town.
We also visited the old farm that had been broken up into smaller plots for several other families after my dad and my dad’s mom sold it when they moved up to Michigan in the 1930’s for better job prospects. Their old farm house was no longer standing so it was a bit boring to see just some fields and little houses and shacks that were now on the old homestead.
We also visited the cemetery where my dad’s parents and other relatives were buried. Because my dad’s parents had died before he met my mom and had us kids, his side of the family was not as well-known to us as my mom’s.
So after a few days of fun shopping and roaming the few streets in town and yelling at the jailbirds, us kids got quickly bored during the remaining few days of our trip. It was at the height of the summer’s heat and what few kids were around didn’t want to play with us because we were strangers. So we spent a lot of time out on my aunt and uncle’s wide front porch swatting at flies and listening to the cicadas humming and buzzing in the trees.
But as often as I could, I walked down to that lovely mansion and I would sit on the far edge of its lawn and just gaze at it. My dad let me borrow his camera and I took many pictures of it. My brothers could never understand my fascination with just a dumb old house but I would dream about someday having enough money to buy it and the first thing I’d do would be to rip off those ugly awnings. My dad laughed and laughed when I told him my future hope because he said it would cost too much money for me to ever make to be able to afford buying it from the county. But I still dreamed about that house.
We also walked along the levee road and would venture down to the banks of the Mississippi River. But we were specifically told to never, never even try to wade or swim in it. My dad said that that river had very unexpectedly strong currents and we could get pulled under or down river quicker than anything. But I would pretend that I was Mark Twain or Tom Sawyer as I sat on the levee road watching the river flow by. I knew that Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn lived in Missouri so that made my daydreamings seem even more real.
But at last we had to pack up and drive back home to Michigan. And I didn’t want to go. I didn’t want to leave my house or the river. But I knew one person who seemed very happy to have us leave and that was my Aunt Eula.
We had bought so much stuff that packing it all in the station wagon was difficult. I made sure my new records were safely tucked into one of the magazines I had bought and I kept that in my lap the whole trip back.
There was something interesting that I saw my dad put into the spare tire section under the back cargo panel of the station wagon after a whispered conversation between him and my Uncle Ross. Besides 2 watermelons that my uncle had grown in his garden and given to us, there was something else that looked like a jug or a big jar of something all wrapped up in sheets. When I asked my dad what it was, he told me to mind my own business. And that, of course, made me wonder even more what it could be.
Because us 3 kids had been a bit cramped riding in the middle car seats on the way down, my dad borrowed an old mattress from my uncle and put it down on the cargo part of the station wagon. Then all of our carefully packed new things, including our heavy steel Coca-Cola cooler filled with ice and snacks and drinks, were jammed in around the mattress. If any of us got tired, we could just climb over the back of that middle seat and snooze there for awhile. My dad was planning on driving back the whole way, with no stopping the night anywhere.
So we said our goodbyes, said thank-you, and left early in the morning. The drive back didn’t seem as interesting as the drive down so us kids yawned a lot, wiggled a lot more, read our newly bought magazines and books and took turns sleeping on the mattress.
It was almost 2 in the morning when we were only about 7 miles away from our house. We were out in the country as we drove down Seymour Road towards the corner of Beecher Rd. My brother, Keith, was sound asleep on the mattress, my youngest brother, Eugene, was sound asleep on the seat next to me and I was sitting behind my mom, trying hard to stay awake.
The only light in that area was the street light that hung over the middle of the intersection. There were stop signs on Beecher Rd. My dad, who was only driving about 45 mph, even though the speed limit was 65, began to cross Beecher Rd. when my mom yelled at him, “Look out Doyne, that car is not stopping!” He suddenly slammed on his brakes and swerved the station wagon to the left. But it was too late, we T-boned a wildly speeding car that didn’t have its lights on as it drove through its stop sign on Beecher Rd.
I will never forget that horrible loud booming crash as we hit that car. The hood of our station wagon crumpled up like paper and part of it cracked the windshield. Suddenly our station wagon was spinning down Seymour and I could see that streetlight crazily turning around and around through the Skyview window. I heard screams coming from that other car that was also spinning down Beecher Road and I watched it through a haze of the smoke and steam from our broken radiator and engine.
My car seat then suddenly jammed into my back and in a panic, I pushed Eugene off his seat and down onto the floorboard to better protect him. I clutched my magazine that held my records tight to my chest as I also tried to get down onto the floorboard. Our car seat was bent almost double and I couldn’t understand why it had done that. I just wanted us to stop spinning because I was afraid we would spin into a tree or maybe another car. I felt so dizzy and sick to my stomach.
The station wagon finally slowed down its spinning and lurched to a stop. It was so dark wherever it was we were at now and I couldn’t see a thing except for the steam still boiling up from the engine and all I could hear was a strange hum and creaky noises from the engine.
My dad reached over and asked my mom if she was all right and she shakily said yes. Then he turned his head and asked me if us kids were all right and I told him that me and Eugene were okay and then I tried to turn around to check on Keith but it was difficult because of the bent car seat. Just then my dad got out, running to the other car to see if everybody there was okay.
I finally was able to reach back and touch Keith and I he didn’t move at all. I started panicking again because I thought he was dead, so I grabbed his shirt and began pulling on him and yelling for him to get up, get up, GET UP!
Mom yelled at us to all get out of the car because she was afraid it would blow up. I gave Keith a final shake and another yell as I grabbed Eugene and pulled us both out of the car to run away with Mom.
Keith sat up, trying to make sense of what had happened. His eyes opened very wide when he saw the crumpled up hood and the broken windshield. He was still quite groggy when he climbed over the seat, tried to sit down like normal, but he couldn’t because of the way the seat was bent. He hastily climbed out of the car to join us.
My mom and us kids were standing on somebody’s front porch, gazing at the front of the car, in shock and so scared, looking at its crumpled up front end with the steam still rising up into the air. Our station wagon had a long hood but it now was half its size. It had come to rest, crazily parked in somebody’s yard.
Lights inside that house came on, then the porch light was turned on and an older man and a woman came out. The man told my mom that the loud crashing noises had awakened them and he asked if we were okay. We all nodded our heads, unable to take our eyes away from our wrecked car. I asked the man if he thought our car would blow up and he said he didn’t think it would but just then my dad came running up and I screamed at the sight of him.
There was blood running all down his face. It was from the several small cuts from the broken windshield but I didn’t know that until later. He asked the man if he could call the police and an ambulance, that there was a young kid in the other car with a badly damaged and bleeding foot. So the man went inside to make the call while my dad quickly reassured all of us that he was okay. The wife told my dad, “That intersection has always been a bad one. Several accidents happen there every year.”
My dad told her, “Well it doesn’t help when teenagers speed through the stop sign with their car lights off either. I tried to avoid them when I saw them, but it was too late, and there was nothing more I could have done.” She asked us if we wanted to come in and wait for the police but my mom and dad told her thank you, but they asked if it would be okay if we all waited on their porch, and she said, “Oh my, yes, that would be perfectly okay.”
So we waited for the police and the ambulance that soon arrived. I just sat and watched from a porch bench, and I could not stop shaking and quietly crying. Our car had finally become silent, except for an occasional weird ticking noise, and the radiator had finally stopped spewing hot steam. Keith and Eugene were still trying to absorb what had happened and were peppering me with questions.
The accident seemed even more horrible as I told them what I had seen. Eugene was fast asleep and all he remembered was that he had been frightened awake by me shoving him down on the floorboard. Keith said that he heard the crash and then he felt himself slide forward. Then he remembered nothing after that until the last time I had grabbed him and yelled at him to get out of the car, it might blow up.
I told him, “You must have been sound asleep because I had heard you snoring as we were driving but you scared the shit out of me! I couldn’t wake you up and I thought you had somehow died!” Keith kept insisting that he had been awake and that maybe he had been knocked unconscious when his head hit the back of the car seat, but I was very dubious.
The ambulance people got the teenage driver on a gurney and his girlfriend, who had been in the passenger seat, got into the ambulance with him. My dad made his statement to the police about what had happened, and the police also interviewed my mom and then me.
My mom told the police that she saw that car speeding hard at us at the last second only from the light above the intersection. If she hadn’t, and if my dad had not reacted as quick as he had, jamming on the brakes and swerving, that other car most likely would have plowed into our passenger side…where my mom and me were sitting. I still couldn’t stop shaking, especially after hearing that, but I told them what little I had seen, which wasn’t much. I had not seen that other car at all until we rammed into it and then we began spinning.
The police also asked me about Eugene and Keith, and that was when my dad learned that Keith had somehow managed to sleep through the whole thing, as I believed he had done, which amazed him to no end. The police told my dad that after the 2 teenagers were first treated for their injuries, and then interviewed, they would send him a copy of their accident report for my dad to give to his insurance company. They reassured my dad that based on our testimonies, the positions of the cars and their damages, plus the skid marks, they were reasonably sure that all of the blame for the accident would be because of that teenage driver.
The police then asked if there was any particular place my dad wanted our station wagon to be towed and my dad told them that because we had been on our way home from our trip to Missouri, he really needed it towed to our house so that we could unpack everything. My dad wanted the police to call Moore’s Mobil Station and have them come out and tow it. My dad was good friends with Jim Moore who owned the gas station and car repair business that was only a quarter mile from our house.
So while the police made that call to have Jim come out with his tow truck, my dad was asking my mom,” Well, how are we all going to get home?” He didn’t want to call any of our neighbors at that late hour but the other police officer said that they would be glad to take us all home, if we would like, since we didn’t live that far away. My dad gratefully thanked them and took them up on their offer.
Jim arrived soon with his tow truck, and as he hoisted up our sad-looking station wagon, my mom and dad, with my brothers, began to get into the police car. I refused to get in though. Because I was still shaking so hard from the fright that we had come close to being killed, and because I was probably in shock as well, the last thing I wanted to do was to get back into another car.
My dad got back out of the police car, hugged me, and told me that I had to get in so that we could all go home but I began to cry as I shook my head no. He then whispered to me, “Come on, Jeneane, you have to get in, you can’t walk all that long way in the dark, so you have to get in,” and then he tugged on my arm. I still refused. My dad whispered again, “Damn it, Baby Doll, you have to go home with us! Get in the car!” My dad rarely called me Baby Doll and so I, still crying and shaking, got into the police car’s back seat and sat on his lap since there wasn’t anywhere else to sit.
It was so surreal following our own poor broken car as it jounced along ahead of us, with its damaged front end dangling down towards the road. The headlights were all smashed in, as well as the hood and the engine, so it looked like it was blind.
Jim towed it up into the side of our yard, and we all scrambled out of the police car’s back seat, thanking them for giving us a ride home. It was so good to see our house again! My dad told Jim many thanks as he gave him the money for the towing.
As tired and shell-shocked as we were, we began to unload the station wagon and take our stuff into the house. During our many trips back and forth, I noticed my dad lifting up the back cargo lid to get the watermelons and that mysterious package that had been hid.
So I crept along the other side and crouched down to see if I could figure out what it was. I watched my dad carefully lift out that sheet-wrapped something and then he took it into the garage and hid it behind the many pieces of spare lumber that he kept under the tool bench.
My curiosity was not answered but when I saw my dad was about to turn around, I quickly grabbed some more of our stuff and came out from beside the car as innocently as I could. He gave me a funny look, trying to figure out if I had seen what he had done as I went past him and into the house.
By this time it was almost 4 in the morning and as my mom and my brothers sleepily began to get ready for bed, my dad made me sit down in one of the dining room chairs. He asked me if I still felt scared of getting back into a car and I started crying again as I shook my head yes. So he yelled out, “Margaret! I’m taking Jeneane for a ride!” Then he grabbed my hand and pulled me out to the garage to where his 1954 Buick Special that he drove to work was parked.
I refused to get into it and I tried to run back into the house. The thought of riding in a car again made me shake and shiver all over. My dad grabbed my shoulder and forced me to get into the front seat of his car and then he started talking to me.
He told me that he had felt me quaking all over with fear during that whole ride back home in the police car and that he knew I wasn’t normally a cowardly, timid kind of girl and that I had to get over my fear, and quickly too, before it could ruin my life. He said, “It’s just like riding a horse; you will either fall off it or get bucked off it at some point, but that you have to climb right back on before you let that fear of falling keep you from ever riding again.”
Now that was a sore spot for me. My dad had grown up in Missouri with lots of horses and he had an especially favorite one called “White Socks”. He had several pictures of him with his horse. I had always loved horses too and I was always so envious that he had had many when he was growing up.
When we moved out to our 5 acres in Flushing Township, I used to beg him and beg him for a horse or a pony because we had lots of room now, but no. Every year I would ask Santa for a horse or just a pony for Christmas but the closest thing I ever got was a bike that was way too big for me.
So I petulantly told him, “Well, you’ve never let me have a horse of my own to fall off of so I wouldn’t know a thing about that!” and then I sulked. He started laughing so hard and because I could never stay mad long at my dad whenever he would laugh like that, I grinned a little bit back at him. He had done that on purpose just to make me laugh and help my fears ease up.
But when he started up the motor, I tried bolting from the car, but he grabbed my arm and he held me in my seat with one hand, while he backed the car out of the garage and down the driveway. I started yelling, “No, no! Take me back!” but he continued driving out onto the road and he drove slow but carefully for several miles until I began calming down a bit.
He then told me, “What happened tonight was scary, even I was scared too.” And I amazedly asked him, “You were? You were scared too?” And he said, “Of course I was scared! When I finally saw that car speeding towards us, but it was too late to prevent the crash, all I could think about was that we could all die or be badly hurt. But luckily, we weren’t. I don’t know if that young kid will be able to walk again because his foot was so badly mangled, but maybe that will be a hard lesson for him to learn. That you don’t speed, that you don’t run stop signs, and you don’t drive at night without your lights on. But hell, yes, I was scared.”
I sat there, silently contemplating what he had just said, especially the part when he had admitted that he had been scared too. But that was my dad: when something bad happens, you have to just continue to carry on somehow. He hadn’t acted scared at all, he had first made sure we were okay, then he ran to try and help those kids as well, even though he had really been scared, like me, from the accident.
So he continued to aimlessly drive and I could slowly feel my fears and my fright over what had happened fade away. I told him, “You know what the worse parts were? Watching that overhead light in the intersection spinning and spinning through the Skyview window, not exactly sure what had happened, but feeling so scared that we would never stop spinning. And then panicking when I couldn’t wake Keith up and thinking he was dead!”
My dad exclaimed, “I still cannot believe he slept through that whole thing.” And I giggled as I replied, “I know! How could he not wake up at all! But Keith said he had been awake and heard the whole thing but he thinks he got knocked out when he hit the back of our seat and bent it. But I had heard him snoring before, so I don’t know if that’s true or not. ”
He glanced over at me and said, “What? What do you mean the seat got bent?” And so I told him that right after the crash, I had pushed Eugene down onto the floorboard and then the seat we were sitting in somehow got bent almost double and I couldn’t sit up straight after that.
He thought about that for a bit and then he asked me if I was feeling better and not as scared. And I realized that yes, I did feel much better, that I didn’t feel so scared and panicky about riding in a car anymore. So he said, “Well let’s go home because I want to take a look at that back seat.”
After we had parked the ’54 back into the garage, my dad got out a flashlight and opened up the back doors of the station wagon to check out the back seat. He tried pulling on it hard to straighten it out but it was solidly bent. He then asked me, “How was Keith sleeping on that mattress? Was his head towards the back seat or was it his feet?” I told him, “I think it was his head that was facing towards the back seat.”
My dad exclaimed, “Well, I’ll be damned! Keith must have slid forward on the mattress when we hit that other car and forced that back seat to buckle. And he still didn’t wake up after hitting the back seat ?” “Well, Keith thinks he was knocked out for a minute or two when he hit the seat, but I still think he was asleep. He’s always been so hard to wake up you know.”
So after we came back through the garage and while my dad was pulling down the garage door to lock it up for the night, I went over to where he had hidden his mysteriously wrapped object. I reached behind the lumber and pulled it out, surprised at how heavy it was. When my dad turned around and saw me with his package, he crossed his arms and gave me an angry look.
“So you did spy on me, huh?” he loudly said. And I told him, “I just want to know what it is and why do you have to hide it? Is it something you don’t want Mom to know about?”
He replied, “Yes, it’s a secret. She would not be happy to know I had brought it all the way up here from Missouri but it’s something I’ve not had since I was last down there.” “So what is it? I promise I won’t tell her.”
He walked over and took the strange thing out of my arms and told me to come on in the kitchen and he would show me. He then unwrapped it and it was a jug with a little looped handle on it and a stopper in the top. “It’s shinny” he said, as if that were an easily understood explanation. “What’s shinny?” “It’s moonshine, illegal liquor. Your Uncle Ross knows a man who makes it in a back shed in his garden out in the country. It’s very potent and your mother didn’t like it when I brought some back when we took you down there when you were just a baby so I didn’t want to make her angry again. That’s why I tried to hide it.”
I told him, “Oh yeah, that reminds me! I got so embarrassed when some people in town kept calling me Punkin and the boys kept teasing me about that nickname. What’s up with that Punkin name? You’ve never called me that before!” My dad laughed and explained that he had always called me Punkin when him and my mom had taken me down to New Madrid when I was 6 months old. But no, I wouldn’t remember being called that because I had been so little.
I said, “And those people remembered that after almost 14 years? Wow, that’s strange! But please don’t ever call me “Punkin” again because that’s a really dumb nickname.” And he said, “All right, Punkin, I won’t ever call you Punkin again” and he laughed as I scowled at him.
My dad then began to wrap the jug back up when I asked him if I could have just a little sip of it, just to see what it tasted like. My dad would sometimes give me little sips of his beer every now and then and he had done that ever since I could remember, although now the Child Protective Services would have conniption fits if they ever heard of a parent doing that.
My dad hesitated, then he said, “I don’t think that’s a good idea. This stuff will take paint off a car, it’s so strong.” But I said, “Please? A little sip won’t hurt me. I just want to see what moonshine tastes like.” So he got a shot glass down, unstoppered the top of the jug, and poured out an eensy little bit. I picked up the shot glass, sniffed it, and the strong smell stung my nose a little bit, but I went ahead and swallowed.
My throat instantly started burning, my eyes began to water, and I started coughing and coughing. It was nasty! My dad started laughing when I asked him, “How can you stand to drink that stuff? It’s horrible!” He told me it was an acquired taste. I replied back, “Yeah, but you have to die first before acquiring that taste! Yuck!” My dad laughed even harder!
Then I asked him, “What would you have done if the police hadn’t let you tow the station wagon to our house? Like maybe it had to go somewhere else to be examined because of the accident or something? And if they found your shinny, what would they have done to you? Would you have been arrested?”
And he replied, “I didn’t think they really would have needed to examine the station wagon just because of the accident and yes, I suppose I could be arrested because it is illegal to get caught with moonshine, even down there in Missouri. A lot of people still make it and drink it, even the cops. But I was pretty sure I would have been okay. It’s your mother’s temper I was more worried about.” And I giggled, because he had a good point there. My mom didn’t have red hair for nothing.
So he said, “Off to bed with you now! I’m going to put the jug back and remember, you don’t say a word about it to your mother or to your brothers, you hear?” I promised to not say a word. And as he headed out to the garage, I heard him say to himself, “I still cannot believe that boy slept through that whole thing!”
This is a picture of a 1967 Buick Sport Wagon but it is very, very similar to the one that we had had for only a few months (the tail lights are different.) Notice the Skyview window right above the back seat.