Brenda and I lived in a trailer right after we married and I went back to UNC/Chapel Hill. We existed on nickels and dimes. Brenda made something like $150 a week working as a secretary for the University. I had the $125 a month GI Bill and a job delivering the Triangle Pointer tourist magazine on Friday afternoons for $15, $60 for the month. That was it. We paid our bills the start of every month, then put some money aside to pay for coming tuition and books and then another little bit for our Christmas fund, some for food and gas, and that would leave us just with change for the rest of the month. But you know what? It was enough and we had a grand time. Life had never been so good.
The owner of the trailer park gave me an old Morris Minor auto some college student, long departed, had abandoned. Only we didn’t have any keys. Brenda’s father came up and we installed a new key box, but the car still wouldn’t start. We worked on it for days and the engine finally cranked, but it needed several replacement parts to make it road worthy. We found the best place to get parts for a Morris Minor was in England or some no-name mail order warehouse in Oakland, California. In addition to being hard to get, they were expensive. It was like the Polaroid camera recently put on the market. It was cheap but the film cost an arm and a leg. So I had a free car that needed expensive parts. Cute looking little car though.
Brenda suggested that we tie it to our Plymouth and drive around. We’d look like a two-car family.
One Friday on my way back home from Raleigh after finishing delivering the Triangle Pointer, I spotted a junked Morris Minor sitting on the edge of a pasture near an old farm house. I stopped along the road, climbed over the fence and went out to the car. Surprisingly most of the engine parts were still intact and were not bad looking for equipment abandoned in a farmer’s pasture.
I knocked on the farmer’s door and asked the black man who answered if I could have the old Morris Minor junker out in his pasture. And he said, “Which one?”
“How many you got?” I asked.
“Well one, I reckon. Just want to be absolutely sure that’s the one you’re talkin’ `bout. Don’t want to give away the family car. But you can have that there’un in the field there if you can get it out y’self. What d`ya want an old car like that fer?”
“For parts,” I said. “I have a Morris Minor someone gave to me that needs parts and maybe the one out there has things I need. I want to take it back to my trailer and cannibalize it as I need to.”
“O.K., it’s you’rn. But what do you mean about a cannibal?”
That evening Brenda’s nine-year old sister, Kim, was dropped off for a week-end visit. On Saturday afternoon I borrowed some rope and the three of us went back to the farmer’s pasture. I backed the Plymouth through a gate in the fence out as far as I could into the pasture. With one end of the rope tied to the rear bumper of our car I walked across the pasture and tied the other end to the front of the Morris Minor. And went back and drove the Plymouth out to the road, maybe twenty yards, untied the rope, backed the car out into the pasture again, retied the rope and drove back out to the road. I did this four times before I got the old car across the pasture.
Brenda and her sister were sitting on the front porch with the farmer and his family watching me.
I had noticed as I had pulled the old car out that the wheels were out of round, because it had been sitting so long.
Brenda and her sister, in the Plymouth, were going to pull me in the Morris Minor, which I had tied so it would be fifteen feet behind them. Before we started I asked Brenda to drive slow until it was clear how towable the old Morris Minor was.
So we pulled out and went by the farmer’s house, with his whole family waving good-bye from their front porch, going five/six miles an hour. The yard dog trotted along beside us, barking as we gained speed from four to five to six miles per hour.
It was a lumpy ride for me, jarring, but safe. I was in control.
At five/six miles an hour we would never get home, however, so I leaned out the window and yelled for Brenda to speed up to say ten miles an hour.
And she did.
The country road we were on went through some open fields. Straight and level. The rattle and shaking increased, but things were under control. And I yelled out for her to speed up more.
And she did.
I held onto the steering wheel with two hands as our speed got up to twenty/twenty-five miles an hour. It was actually a smoother speed than the ten-mile pace, which had seemed to maximize the bumps and lumps. Maybe the centrifugal force had pushed the rubber out of the tires, making them more round. If twenty/twenty five was better than ten, then thirty/thirty-five might even be better, so I waved Brenda to go on a little faster.
And she did, as the road left the open fields and snaked its way down into a little swampy valley, across a narrow bridge and up around a bend.
Brenda, possibly tired of looking out of the rear view window, called more to look ahead as she navigated down to the narrow bridge, also became involved in a conversation with her sister. And she seemed to forget about me.
The Morris Minor swung across the road as we picked up speed making the first turn going down into the swampy valley. Inside, my eyes wide, I suddenly realized I had no control, and the rope was too long. I was like a water skier holding onto the line of a rapidly turning boat. And then the road turned the other way and the little light Morris Minor was whipped at the end of the rope back across the road, on to the shoulder. Rocks were flying. The two right wheels were off the road, the two on the left were on the road. I was bounced around inside with my head hitting the top, every three, four seconds. And then another turn and I was out in the road and there was a car coming and then another turn and thankfully I was pulled directly behind Brenda.
And she looked in her rear view mirror and I looked just fine, with my two hands on the wheel. I could see her looking and I started to take one hand off the wheel to wave for her to slow down but we were approaching another curve and by the time I got my hand up Brenda was back looking at the curve ahead and she was still talking with her sister and I was suddenly half on, half off the road and there was a road sign ahead and I was going to hit it square on and I tried to turn the wheels to get me back on the road away from the sign and the road curved again the other way and I was flung across the road, faster because I had turned the wheels, and the narrow bridge was up ahead and I was heading for the abutment on the other side but as we straightened to go across the bumpy bridge I was pulled in behind Brenda and she looked in her rear view mirror to see how I was doing and I lifted one hand off the steering wheel and gave her the US Army infantryman hand signal to stop.
A raised fist. I had her attention. I could see she was looking back at me in the rearview mirror and she nodded.
Howsomeever, I was bouncing so much that she thought I was pumping my fist in the air like a trucker blowing his whistle, and she took it that I wanted to go faster. I had asked her to speed up twice before. That’s why she nodded.
So as we came across the bridge, she accelerated, now going maybe forty/forty five miles an hour as we started winding our way up the other side.
I was off the road charging straight on to the back side of signs one second and the next out in the middle of the road, whipping back and forth.
Yelling for Brenda to slow down. Occasionally balling up my fist as the car swung behind the Plymouth on its way to one side or the other. And Brenda was gaily chatting with her sister.
At one point I had been jerked so fast from off the road to the middle of the road, that I thought I was going to break the rope in a catapulted move past the car.
Kim, bless her heart, happened to look behind at me as Brenda negotiated the last few turns out of the swamp and noticed that I had a frantic expression on my face as I was whipped from one side to the other and she suggested that Brenda might want to slow down and go back and see how I was doing.
She stopped soon thereafter and walked back to where I sat, shaken. She could not understand why I was so disheveled and mad.
“What is wrong with you?” she asked.