I remember growing up in the ‘50s when times were somewhat difficult for the World War II guys who were trying to find their niche after the war. Dad was fresh out of the service with five mouths to feed plus a wife. He was trying to sell Cadillacs at Lloyd Motor Company in Panama City and, while he loved those Cadillacs, he could never think about owning one.
He couldn’t sell them very often — either because he was too honest or, the truth is, I don’t know why he couldn’t sell them. Maybe nobody had enough money or credit to buy a Cadillac in 1959? By the way, that was the year when, (in my limited experience as a car expert, although I once spent the day at CarMax), the most beautiful Cadillacs were made. It was not quite a block long, had tail fins one might see on a great white shark and rode like a sailboat on the bay at 8 a.m. when undulation is subdued and calm rules the water. Sort of eased itself up and down, gentle like, over the newly formed roads of the rich folks’ neighborhoods. When one passed down the street, you had to look.
There are some things I don’t remember. We had one car in ‘59, a 1957 Ford station wagon, yellow, and I can’t remember ever seeing tread on the tires. If there were it was probably a “recap.” I don’t remember the price of a new tire in ‘59 because I never bought one but a “recap” was very popular and must have been half the price of a new tire.
I also don’t remember ever having a “recap” blowout on a trip, but we did run over a chicken once. The chicken had wandered too close to the side of the road. Dad stopped and paid the man but I don’t remember what chicken cost back then because mom did the grocery shopping, that is when when dad would let her have the car.
Mom knew how to drive, but didn’t most of the time because that Ford was parked at the Cadillac dealer’s. We had “recaps” in our shoes also in the form of cardboard, which had the potential of allowing the shoe to make it until dad sold a Cadillac. Being on straight commission is great when one can experience the excitement of a dad, who you know is giving it all he’s got and sharing all the economic news, good or bad, with the family, comes home and says, “Guess what? I sold one today! A brand new ‘59 Cadillac.”
Then, Lord have mercy, five kids and their mom and dad are going to the drive-in to watch Ben-Hur, and have popcorn from the refreshment building, where for free, we can stand in front of a mirror that makes us look fat or slim or weird. Life is good, until it rains.
You haven’t lived until you’re sitting three abreast in a ‘57 Ford on “recaps” at the drive in and lightening hits the metal speaker. Dad behind the wheel of course, me on the inside and little brother, who got the worst of it, on the outside. I suppose this explains why he’s always been smarter than me and had that math thing going. Just think, if he had gotten in first on the way back from the crazy mirror, I might have…well, might haves are not good at this age so I’m leaving that alone.
We’re dealing with reality here and the good news is that dad eventually got that ‘59 Cadillac. It was a beautiful brown “used” one (now referred to as previously owned) in 1963, complete with “recaps,” the year he started civil service at the base. That ‘59 Cadillac was wide enough inside to lay in the floor in the back and use the transmission hump for a pillow on long trips. A smooth drone would ensue, and like the sleep aids of today, sleep would come, peaceful and secure for as long as dad stayed on the road.
We never thought about being raised on “recaps” until we got older and the stories were told. Good stories of a guy from a generation, like any generation, that grows up with expectations, puts them off to take care of family and country, makes the most of “recaps” and is rewarded with their own ‘59 Cadillac. If he were here now I’d ask him to take me for a ride in the rear floor of that thing to get some much needed rest.
Sonny Harmon is a professor emeritus at Georgia Military College. Visit his blog at http://sharmon09.blogspot.com.