Monday, July 4, 2022

Too Soon Old


My first car, a 54 chevy in 1965.  If I had been smart, I would still have it.  Gave 50 for it, sold it for 20!

     My maternal grandparents, Bert and Hilda McNew, had a little farm out southeast of Houston, Mo a few miles. I was born in their old farmhouse. They were wonderful people whom I dearly loved and still do.


Scratching out a living with a few milk cows and chickens and a hog or two was a difficult thing in those days, so Grandma sold some eggs and milk and butter, tended a big garden and canned and sewed a lot. Grandpa did a little work on the side when he could find it. One of the things he did for a while was pick up trash each Saturday morning from businesses along Main Street to haul to the city dump in his old faded red pickup. 


When I was only five or six years old I would go with him on Saturday mornings, and it was a wonderful thing to go through that trash as he raked it from the bed of his old truck. Grandma always wanted him to look for jars she could use for canning, and I would look for comic books and magazines. There were a bunch of them, and they always had the top few inches cut off of the cover. I guess the stores had to do that to prove they hadn’t sold them, and that’s the way I saw my first outdoor magazines, which fascinated me. 

But one day I found a little oblong wooden plaque, obviously cut out of a small pine tree, with the phrase printed on it, “Ve get too soon old, and too late smart.”


I clung to it like a valuable prize, and wrapped it up and gave it too my dad on Father’s Day. It was the first gift I ever gave anyone and I was tremendously proud of it. For a while Dad hung it in the kitchen, and it seemed everyone was amused by it. Dad said it was advice he could use.


In time of course I forgot all about it, and a few years back, going through Mom and Dad’s photos and things after they had passed away, I came across so many old things I had forgotten: a Mother’s Day card I had made, a book of my poems my first grade teacher, Mrs. Frost, had bound together for me. I found my first letter sent home from college at the age of 17, a high school yearbook that was full of pictures of my high school enemies and without even one of me, and an old photo of dad and me, which I had never seen. And there was that little plaque in the bottom of a box! 


As I held it in my hands, it brought me back to that time long ago when I rode in Grandpa’s old red Chevy pick-up, looking so forward to driving down the back alleys with him, behind the Main Street businesses, to load up and haul off someone else’s refuse. And it was a time when I realized that someone’s trash could be someone else’s treasure.


But the words had such an impact on me now… “Ve get too soon old and too late smart”. My gosh, there is so much truth in that. I got old so fast. How did it happen? I was just a kid not long ago. 


I wish I could go back and do things differently. I wish I had gotten smart long before I got old. I would have quit school when I was young, spent my early life as a fishing guide on the Piney and kept all those old cars I had when I was young.   I bought each at Roy Fisher’s junkyard for 50 bucks and as they began to use a quart of 35 cent oil every 100 miles I would sell them back to him for 20 dollars and get another one for 50.  They were, in order of acquirement, a 1950 Ford, a 1954 Chevy, a 1956 Oldsmobile and a 1956 Chevy.  I had that 1956 Chevy when I went left School of the Ozarks to attend University of Missouri.  The 1956 Oldsmobile had an automatic light-dimmer device sitting on the dash, and electric seats that made the seat go up and down and back and forth via a button on the driver’s side of the seat.  Once at the drive-in on one of the few dates I ever had with a girl, I scared the heck out of her with that electrical moving seat. Darn near ran the battery down; I was having so much fun with it.  When I graduated at M.U. I purchased, through Ford credit, for a great deal more than 50 dollars, a 1963, sporty-looking Ford Galaxie that today would be worth twenty times what the interest amounted too. If today I owned those cars still and my grandpa’s old 1949 truck, I wouldn’t have needed an education.  But come to think of it, I never needed it anyway. If I had known it then, I would be a fishing and hunting guide up in Northwest Ontario today, far from this mess the U.S. is in now.  But like that plaque said, “We get too soon old and too late smart”.


I ought to thank someone right here at this point.  His name is Rodney Fockler.  He was a mechanic out south of town with a garage at his home and he kept all those old cars of mine running by fixing this and that, while I was going to school.  He charged me very little, sometimes nothing, knowing I never had much money.  Rodney, to me you deserve sainthood.  You are one of the reasons I got to where I am today, whatever that amounts too.   Rodney, you have my heartfelt gratitude 


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