A Mercury, a Chevrolet and an Oldsmobile

Joe Bob Clark, John Hughes and O’Neal Thweatt grew up together in Esto and were fast friends all their lives. Standing at the graveside as John was buried in the Esto Cemetery in 1999, Joe Bob told this story:

IN 1956 I HAD A brand new red and white Mercury hardtop named Agatha. John had a brand new red and white Chevrolet hardtop named Gertrude. O’Neal had a brand new red and white Oldsmobile hardtop named Prunella.

On a lazy Sunday afternoon about 1 o’clock or so, we were all three sitting on the porch of the old brick stores in Esto — the part that is now torn down. One of us suggested we go up to Hartford to see a matinee at the Ritz. We tried to decide who would drive, but nobody wanted to drive his new car. We argued for an hour or so and still none of us would agree to drive.

After a while, one of us suggested that we hitch-hike. So that’s what we did. We left three brand new cars parked at the old store and started out walking.

At first we had pretty good luck. Before we reached the state line we caught a ride most of the way and didn’t have to walk very far to the theater.

We saw the movie and — full of popcorn, candy and Coke — started back to Esto. Our luck had run out. Of the nine or so miles from the theater to our cars, we walked probably seven or eight. Somebody finally picked us up near the state line and rode us into downtown Esto.

WE PRACTICALLY LIVED IN OUR CARS. We all worked with the federal-state inspection service. We were sent from pillar to post. There was a saying among the inspectors that you could always recognize an inspector when he hit town because he would be driving a brand new car and have one shirt hanging in the back window. This wasn’t too far from the truth. I usually had to borrow money to leave home and borrow to get back home. We stayed in rooming houses and did not live high on the hog.

And we practically lived in our cars. We kept all of our personal and what little business papers we owned in the glove compartment of our vehicles. It was a ritual that when one of us got a new car, immediately the other two would want to be taken for a ride. One of the two would jump behind the wheel and the other would claim “shotgun.” That meant the new owner would have to get in the back seat and was at the mercy of the other two.

The first thing the shotgun rider would say was, “Let me put your files in order for you.” Then he would proceed to open the glove compartment — they were big in the ’50s — put in both hands and completely destroy any semblance of order, scattering everything over the floor and the front seat. This happened without fail. You could try to dodge it, but it was going to happen sooner or later. We all thought this was hilarious — unless it was your new car.


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