Christmas has always been a very special time in our family. It was always a traditional time with all of the family together, a time of cutting down the tree, a fire in the fireplace and Bing Crosby or Gene Autry singing carols as we opened presents on Christmas morning. Christmas of 1952 is the first Christmas I remember. I was four years old, we were living in Montgomery, Alabama, and my Dad had a black 1946 Ford Club Coupe which we called "Old Betsy". We drove that car everywhere, including trips back and forth to our home town of Chattanooga. The car was a 6-cylinder, and the only trouble Dad had with it was once when it ran hot, but that turned out to be a leaky freeze plug, which was quickly fixed. Well, there was one other problem: It was around Christmas time and we were visiting our minister. I went out to get in the car before everyone else, climbing into the driver's seat. As I sat behind the wheel, I popped the clutch and the return spring came off. Dad and the minister put it back on, but my driving privileges were temporarily suspended!
In December of '52, my brother Bob was born, and my Grandmother Bobbie came to visit. Dad surprised the family with a new '52 Chevy 4 door. It was 2-tone Blue with Dark Blue pinstriped seats. When he came home, he stopped at the edge of the driveway and signaled for me to come and get in. I got to sit on his lap and steer the Chevy down the driveway. My driving privileges had been reinstated!! What a thrill that was! Later that night, we took my Grandmother around Montgomery in the '52 to see the Christmas decorations. In those days, all of the downtown merchants decorated their store windows with Santas and scenes of the season. It was a "6-volt" world then. Anybody who grew up in the early '50s will know what I am talking about. The cars all had a dim yellow glow from their 6-volt headlights, and had dark red taillights that looked like two dots in the night. Even the street lights seemed to be on low glow. It really made the shop window displays stand out. I liked it!
The Christmas of '55 was another special Christmas for our family. We had moved back to Chattanooga where all of the grandparents lived. That Christmas, I got several big steel trucks, including a wrecker towing a car, and a filling station that had a lift that went up and down. My Grandmother Pat and Granddaddy Bill came over to see what we had received for Christmas. My Grandfather shared my love for cars and was very interested in seeing my newly-acquired vehicles. He told me about his first car--a 1923 Chevy, and how he drove a Stutz Bearcat to pick up my Grandmother when they were dating. The loud noise from the open exhaust caused her mother to scream "The world is coming to an end!" That must have been a sight! We had a great day and that night went to see my other grandparents, Pop and Bobbie. They had a 2-story Victorian house that I loved to wander around in.
When we would visit, I always enjoyed looking over the dash of the '52 as we entered the alley. There was a barn red, one-car garage on the right with dark windows, and as we passed it I would imagine what kind of car might be in there. I never found out. Soon, we would pull into the drive next to Pop's '47 Nash Ambassador and run to the front porch. There were full-length side windows on each side of the front door, and after we rang the bell, I would look through the left window and watch my Grandmother as she walked down the hall to greet us at the door. She had her dining room table spread with food of all kinds. After we ate, we would sit in the living room and talk for hours.
As the years passed, Mom and Dad would stay home and prepare the meal, while my brothers and sisters and I would go out to cut down the tree. We would go out into the country and stand on one hill and pick a tree on another hill that was at least a mile away, if not in the next county! By the time we got to the tree, it was at least 30' tall, so we would have to climb almost to the top to cut the 8' section we needed to fit in the living room. I had a 3-seat '52 Chevy Wagon with wood door and interior panels--a real holiday fun car! We would tie the tree to the top and pile in for the ride home. when we got back home, Mom and Dad had a space cleared for the tree, a fire in the fireplace and hot chili and cheeseburgers. After dinner, we would decorate the tree and talk and laugh about the time we had getting it. Those times are just as fresh in my mind today as if they had just happened. As I grew older, and I had my own family, I realized that it took a lot of effort on my parents' part to make those special times happen. Each year, I get out the "old cars" and take family and friends out to make new memories. A few years ago, we had a '37 Chevy. My wife Karen and daughter Heidi, my parents and I took it out for a night ride on Lookout Mountain. The heater didn't put out much heat, but it didn't matter. We felt warm as we drank our hot cider and saw the lights of the city as we drove down the mountain. Every time I see a '37 Chevy dash, I think of that special night. We all love our cars, and it doesn't matter if we've built them original, street, or hot rod, we all share one thing: They represent a part of our past that we have special memories of, and the cars help to preserve those memories. It could be the family's first car, or that muscle car you had that made you feel on top of the world every time you opened up the 4-barrel. Now, when I get in my cars and look at those great dashes, smell the 50-year-old cloth and leather interiors, I can't help but think of those special people and times past of which the cars played such a big part. So, this holiday season, let's get out our cars and create some new memories! have a Happy Holiday Season. God bless you and ...keep 'em driving!