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Friday, April 7, 2017

Journey’s Long End

Ever since I’d first seen one at maybe the age of nine or ten, driven by a soldier home from the Big War, I’d wanted an MG T-Type roadster. And here I was in my own soldier’s uniform, standing by my very own MG, the Old Man’s welcome home gift to me.
“Bought you a car, son,” he’d said as soon as my brother and his wife and son were out of the house.
I looked at the door and raised an eyebrow. My brother and I had just mustered out of the Army and driven from San Antonio, Texas, to a farm a little bit north and east of Akron, Ohio. One car, the three of them, me, his wife’s cousin and all our worldly possessions had come 1,500 miles in his ’59 Galaxie, trying to make it in one long slog. Didn’t quite. We broke for about four hours’ sleep eight hours from home. Now I was being given a car.
“Bought him a wedding.” It was short, dismissive and definitely brooked no further discussion. The Old Man had not been happy at my brother’s choice of wife or time of marriage. I hoped he would change. He never did. “Don’t you want to know what it is?” As if no other words had been spoken.
“Oh, Hell yes!” There was nothing to be done about his relationship with my kid brother. . .never had been. “Where is it?” I headed for the door.
“In New Jersey.”
I nearly fell over a flower in the linoleum as I screeched to a halt. “New Jersey.” It wasn’t a question. “My new car is in New Jersey.” I looked at him. “And I should...?” I had just driven and ridden fifteen hundred miles in less than two days and now I was going to have to...
“You should get your ass on a Greyhound for East Rutherford, New Jersey, and go collect your car from your Aunt Jean. Her son Danny got it taken away from him for screwing around in school and almost flunking out. She sold it to me for you, on condition that you come see her to get it.” He stopped talking. He wasn’t about to tell me what it was unless I asked. OK, I’d ask.
“Um-m-m... Not that I’ll turn down a free car, but what is it?”  The word “jalopy” was floating around in my head. The ’39 Dodge pick-up he’d brought home in 1956 (“Look what I got for thirty-nine dollars, Pat,” he’d crowed to my mother. She had not shared his enthusiasm, although she gave her grudging approval when he told her it was for me to drive around the fields and learn driving skills on.) rose like a ghost before my eyes.
The Old Man laughed. “Nuthin’ you’re thinkin’ of, Son,” he said. “I got you an honest to the bear sports car.”
Right then and there I almost blew the whole thing up. . .his pride, his joy in what he’d done and his certainty he knew what I wanted above all things. “You bought me a Mustang?” I blurted. It was mid-August, 1965. Mustangs had appeared on the streets in the middle of the 1964-1965 “winter” in San Antonio, and I had fallen in love. Mustang was the only sports car I could think of.
“No.” The Old Man was crestfallen. “I knew you’d always wanted one, so I got you an MG.”
“An MG?” I goggled at him. “You bought me an MG. An honest to Pete MG?” I took two steps and grabbed him in a bear-hug. I lifted him off the floor. “You’re not shittin’ me, are you?”
“Charles!” My mother spoke for the first time in the entire conversation. “I still have a bar of Ivory soap.”
“Yes’m,” I said. “I’m very sorry.”
“All right. But you know your father would never shit you about something like that.”
And the tension was broken. The Old Man put his arm over my shoulder and led me outside into the muggy August twilight. He took out a pack of Camels and offered me one. We smoked in companionable silence for a minute or two. A Redwing Blackbird’s raucous call echoed up the hill from the cattail marsh at the foot of it. I took another drag and asked, “An MG? For real? How’m I gonna learn to drive that?”
”Your Aunt Jean will teach you. She’s the best driver I know. She’ll scare you half to death, but she’ll have you ready to drive it back in a few days.”
Late one evening about a week later, I pulled the little black MG into the Old Man’s driveway. I was home. From a small farm in Ohio I had been to Hiram College (I returned to graduate), Fort Knox in Kentucky, Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas, Camp Page in Chun Chon, Republic of Korea and back to Fort Sam Houston, barely avoiding the morass that Viet Nam was already becoming. From there, home to the farm and immediately to East Rutherford, New Jersey. From there I had driven my new sports car back to the little farm in Ohio. My journey was over. The trip through the mountains of Pennsylvania to get back to Ohio was a journey in its own right. But that’s another story. This larger journey was over.
The MG wasn’t a T-type, and I’d only assumed that because I wanted a T-type. Gone were the angular body and the flared fenders that marked the T-C, thru the T-F. She was an A-type, slick and rounded, built to slide through the air, an MGA. She wasn’t a true roadster either. The hardtop was permanent. There would be no open top driving, for there was no soft top. My Aunt Jean had sold my father a 1957 MGA, a solid-body coupe with a 1500 cc four-cylinder engine, twin two-barrel carburetors, a hydraulic clutch and a top speed of less than a hundred miles an hour. Her son had scorched and seared the cylinders, and knurled the pistons to take up space. I would have the engine rebuilt and run it with oversized pistons as a 1600+ cc engine. It may have been the only bored and stroked MGA on the planet.

(C) R C Larlham. All Rights Reserved

A longer version of this story was published in
“The Old Man and Me, Book 1;” Black Rose Publishing