by Rick Watson
(This story ran in the Birmingham Post Herald on April 14th of 2002)
My daddy, rest his soul, taught me how to cuss. Not that he sat down with me and discussed the different ways in which to use profanity, but I learned from him just the same. You see, he had a 1955 Ford Fairlane with a beautiful two-tone paint job. It was dark green on the bottom and the light green on top was the color of lime sherbet. In those early years, Ford hadn’t yet perfected the automatic choke. That’s the mechanism in a carburetor that helps the car start properly in all kinds of weather. During the warm spring, summer and fall months, the car cranked perfectly. But come the first cold days of winter it turned into a big ‘ol boat anchor.
I remember one morning in particular we had an early freeze and the frost on the ground looked like a young snow. My daddy slowly approached the Ford, which sat in the driveway just by my bedroom window, and I could hear him say, “O.K. baby, I know it’s cold, but I know you would never let me down.” He sat down, patted the gas pedal, and turned the key…AR AR AR AR AR AR AR. “Come on baby, he coaxed.” AR AR AR AR AR AR AR AR. Nothing. He patted the gas and tried again. A few choice word with which I was unfamiliar came out of his mouth. AR AR AR AR AR AR AR. Then the sound of his voice got a little louder and the expletives became more creative. AR AR AR AR AR AR AR AR AR AR AR. He stepped out kicked the wheel and let out a stream of dialog that had the meter and pacing of a Beat Generation Poet, except with x-rated words. He assembled creative word combinations never heard before. He made use of body functions, sexual deviation, and barnyard animals, as well as talked badly about the linage of the people in Ford Motor Company who had designed and built the Fairlane. I’m telling you, his tirade would have made a Rap star blush.
At 5:30 a.m. even in rural Walker County, people began to notice and lights in the neighborhood started coming on. Mother walked from the kitchen wrapped up in her housecoat and offered to give it a try. Daddy, in a colorful way told her to give it a try. She stepped in touched the gas pedal one time turned the key and the Ford sprung to life. I know that it was by the Grace of God that daddy had forgotten his pocketknife that morning because I am certain that he would have carved her into little pieces and left her twitching on the driveway.
He jumped into that car, slammed it into reverse and backed into the gravel road that ran by our house. With the gas pedal to the floor he jammed it into low gear and roared off full throttle…still in low gear. That motor was wound as tight as a weed-eater and he drove it that way all the way to the Dora junction which is three miles away. That motor got so hot you could have cooked breakfast on the hood.
A few days later, we had a new car. It was a 1957 Plymouth and it cranked like a champ even when it was cold.
There have been a few times (very few) when I have been angry enough to use the cussing skills my dad taught me, but they are there just in case. Every day is a school day