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  • Writer's pictureSteven Cornelius

My First Car

I traded for my first car when I was thirteen. My first vehicle with four wheels was actually a truck. After almost two years of riding my Bridgestone 90 about fifteen miles to work each evening, I grew tired of being pelted by cold rain and winds and traded it to daddy for a 1951 chevy 3100 pickup. That truck had no tag, poor brakes and almost slick tires, but it ran and that was good enough for me. The truck didn't need to be street legal because I was still two years away from qualifying for a Mississippi driver's license. Unless you were stupid enough to drive into the middle of town, no one bothered you. The sheriff and his deputies would have been busy all the time pulling over every farm truck they encountered on the gravel roads in eastern Alcorn County.

It was a rough looking, but good old truck. I liked the fact that the old Chevy offered far more protection from other drivers than my blue motorcycle. The windshield wipers and heater worked, which was a great improvement over hanging my young butt out in the wind. It had a dark green vinyl seat, and the defroster sometimes cleared the windshield of fog on the inside and frost on the outside. It had a 216 cubic inch six cylinder engine hooked to a three speed manual transmission. The manual gave me the ability to start it, even if the battery was dead. I could park the old thing on a hill and roll it a few feet to start the engine. I was barely able to put gas in the faded blue truck much less a new battery. When the old six volt under the hood wouldn't turn the engine over, I'd put the truck into neutral, give her a gentle push, jump back inside and slip the transmission into second gear. When the truck hit about ten miles per hour, headed down the hill I'd parked on, I'd pop the clutch. The engine always caught within a hundred feet or so and I was on my way.

I still worked at the Frosty Mug as a carhop five and six nights each week, so I worked out a system with my boss, Joe Holloway. He lived a couple of miles from Lake Hill Motors, a business about eight miles from our house that sold Honda and Yamaha motorcycles. I parked my old truck at the far end of their parking lot each day and Joe would swing by and I’d jump in for the drive out to the restaurant. Joe would drop me off after work and I'd roll the truck far enough to start it and then drive home. I hadn't bother to ask the owner of the business if it was okay to park there. My truck was pretty ratty looking, so over time, the owner told me I'd have to leave it somewhere else. I started parking the old Chevy a mile away at my first cousin's house trailer. Joe still dropped me off at Lake Hill Motors. I'd then walk the mile to the parking lot to be picked up or back to my truck at 1AM and drive home.

Sunday night at closing time was when the eagle flew (payday) at the Frosty Mug. One Sunday night about midnight, Joe counted out twenty eight dollars for my week's efforts, which I folded and stuck in my front right jean pocket. Even though I considered myself 'street savvy" on that particular night, I completely overlooked a tall, scrawny stranger that had hung around the Mug all evening. He was quiet and no one else paid him much attention either. I do remember him asking me how I got home each evening. I naturally assumed he was about to offer to drive me to my house...for a price. I foolishly blabbed all the details of how I kept my truck at my cousin’s place, and that Joe dropped me off at Lake Hill Motors, and blah, blah, blah. Well, that guy waited for Joe to drop me off in the Lake Hill Motors parking lot and start my mile hike down a narrow paved road that bordered the front nine of the country club golf course. It was a cool night in late September with a pretty brisk wind blowing leaves across the fairways and through a line of Maple trees standing like sentries along the roadway. As I walked along, the wind would subside long enough for me to hear footsteps behind me. At first, I thought it was my imagination, so I would speed up and then stop suddenly. That's when I could distinctly hear the slap...slap of shoe leather on pavement. I whirled around and saw the shadowy outline of the tall skinny stranger I'd talked with briefly at the Frosty Mug...only now he had a switchblade knife in his right hand and was charging toward me.

I about crapped my pants! I spun around and took off like the devil was chasing me! Even though I was short with little banty legs, I was skinny and deceptively fast. I jumped out to about a twenty foot lead on the guy and ran like fury. After about a hundred yards, I could tell the run was taking a toll on the guy. I could hear him hacking and coughing. I'm sure he was a two pack a day guy and it was messing with his breathing and stamina. He began yelling after me, "Come back here you little s**t!" When I didn't slow down, he yelled, "Just drop the money and I'll stop chasing you." By now, I had increased my lead to about fifty feet. He was wheezing and gasping and yelling at me, describing how he was going to cut me into little pieces. I suppose he'd gotten very angry at my not listening, because he didn't give up, following me to within a hundred feet of my cousin's trailer. She had a big, meaner than hell German Shepherd dog. As I approached her trailer, I started yelling, "Let the dog out...let the dog out!" Thankfully, she heard me and opened the front door and that big, growling dog flew past me toward the tall stranger. When he saw that dog headed his way, I heard him yell, "Oh s**t!" He turned and beat feet with that German Shepherd hot on his heels. My cousin stepped out onto her front porch holding a shotgun. I was still running full speed. About ten feet from the porch, I jumped up and skidded to a stop beside her, panting, coughing and wheezing. She immediately assumed that I'd done something to piss the guy off and even though I explained exactly what happened, she wasn't buying it.

I thanked her for turning the dog loose, made sure it got back inside the trailer, fired up my old truck and headed home. I told my dad about that episode the next day and he took me seriously, asking me to describe the man as best I could. I gave him a detailed description, down to the clothes he wore and the long scar on his right cheek and dark, greasy hair. Daddy also asked me to point him out if he came by the shop as he would take care of him. I was confident he would, but I never saw the guy again. I spent a very nervous and unsettled couple of weeks at work after that until I was sure he wouldn't come around again.

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