The young boy stood on the transmission hump and looked over the big round dash with large, symmetrical gauges on each side of the bassy-sounding tube radio, as Gene Autry's "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" filled his Dad's 1946 Ford Club Coupe with the sounds of the season. It was in the early '50s. Dad was driving, Mom was on the passenger side and I was in the middle as we drove down the main street of our home town to see the Christmas decorations. Of course, there were no malls in those days, and all of the main retail stores and
restaurants were downtown. It had just gotten dark and the Christmas decorations were all lit up. Large, glowing stars were hanging high in the middle of Market Street, with round light strings draped off of them, forming Christmas tree shapes as the light strands led to either side of the street, then made a 90-degree turn and went down to the next corner and crossed over to another star. There were lights as far as I could see, all the way to the Market Street bridge over the Tennessee River.
All of the stores had decorated their windows, especially the department stores, with scenes of Santa's Workshop, Cutting Down the Tree, and always lots of presents! My favorite window display showed a Packard convertible pedal car that Santa had just left under the tree. That Christmas Eve, he brought me one just like it! As I looked in awe at the decorations, I knew it was a special time that I would always remember. We turned right and drove the old Ford up High Street to my Grandmother Pat's, and I couldn't wait to tell her and my Grandfather what I had seen downtown!
The cars of that time had "faces", and that '46 looked like my Dad. Every time I see one, I smile and think about that wonderful night.
In 1971, I had just bought my first Packard. It was a 1946 4-door, and it was again Christmas Eve. I called my Dad and told him I would pick him up from work. The Packard looked good, with its wide white walls and sleek lines. The place was Lexington, Kentucky and it was cold and snowing. As I pulled to the curb in front of his store, Dad and his assistant manager Sam were standing there.
Sam said, "Look! Here comes a limo!" Dad didn't say anything. He just opened the back door and got in. Sam stood there shaking his head as we drove off. I handed Dad some warm cider and we began discussing the upcoming night's festivities. Dad wrote me a note later, about his feelings that Christmas:
"We went to Christmas candlelight service and stayed up until about 3 AM, then got up to open presents at 6:45 AM. The family was all together. Everyone was well and happy. We had a wonderful time."
In 1986, two years after we moved back to Chattanooga and started Southern Wheels Magazine, we bought a 1937 Chevy. It was a maroon car
with original interior, and had its 216 with a floor shift. No radio, but we put a "boom box" loaded with Christmas carols in the front seat. My wife Karen, daughter Heidi and Mom and Dad rode up Lookout Mountain to see Rock City at Christmas. It was beautiful. The heater in the old Chevy was not exactly "toasty", so we had a lap robe for the rear passengers and thermoses of hot coffee and cider to take off the chill. As we came down the mountain that night, the city looked like a giant Christmas tree, all lit up in colors. I froze that moment in time and will always remember it.
With a very few exceptions, our family has always cut down our Christmas trees, and brought them home in one of the old cars. One year, it was a '52 Chevy Station Wagon. Once it was a '46 Chevy Panel Truck. But the one I'm remembering now was our 1958 Buick Riviera 2 door hardtop with Continental Kit. It's a Red and White car with a cavernous trunk. Karen, Heidi and I drove it out into the Georgia countryside to a Christmas tree farm with acres and acres of perfectly-shaped trees. We took along our new German Shepherd puppy, who outran us to check out the trees! When we finally came to the last field, there it was! We felt a little like the Griswolds in "Christmas Vacation". The tree just lit up for us, and, of course, it was too big. But we could trim it up at the house, right? We cut it down and loaded it into the '58 with room to spare. As we headed home, we were happy to see people waving and giving us the "thumbs up" in appreciation of the big Buick!
I hope you have enjoyed these stories. I had a great time writing them. The holiday season is the perfect time for getting out the cars to share them with family and friends, not for hiding them in the garage!
All of us at Southern Wheels Magazine wish all of you and your families a wonderful season and a prosperous New Year. God bless you all! Keep 'em driving!