I was two-and-a-half years old when we lived in a two-bedroom, white-painted clapboard rental house on Mead Avenue, in 1951. I remember this (and, it’s as far back as my memory goes). Daddy’s beat-up, late-1930’s Chevy suddenly quit running. We were in it. It was a bad car when he bought it, and the situation quickly went downhill from there. — A man came and hauled it off, and gave us a ride home on his way to the wrecking yard, where he was taking our car.
Daddy had a full-time job he had to get to. He worked for a local radio station, announcing, writing advertising copy, and recording commercials. So, of course he needed reliable transportation. Plus, he had a wife and two kids. That would be my mom, my slightly older brother Al III, and me. So he needed something to drive us around in. Mom didn’t drive, and she therefore, had no car. At that time, she was staying home with us boys. We were quite small. Al was four, and as I mentioned, I was only two-and-a-half.
So Dad had to find a reliable family car. He solved this problem by getting a — motor scooter!
One of Daddy’s friends said, “Hey, Al, I’ve got just the thing you need. I’ve got an old scooter that runs just fine. It doesn’t need any parts or repairs. — Maybe a little polishing and tuning; but it’s good transportation. I’ll sell it to you cheap, and I’ll deliver it to you”. Well, Daddy was never practical, so he immediately agreed to this, without bothering to consult Mom.
Daddy’s friend showed up, with the scooter in his pickup truck the next night, which was a Friday. He heaved it over the side, set it on our lawn near the front door, and said, “There you go, Al. Just give it a little bit of attention, and you’ll have great transportation”. Daddy paid him in cash, and he left. I noticed, on his way out of there, that Daddy’s friend had a sort of relieved look on his face.
You may notice I didn’t mention Daddy taking the scooter for a test drive. Well, that would have been way out of character. ‘Cause, like I said, Daddy was never known to be practical. But he did spend most of the weekend cleaning and polishing the machine. It wasn’t much to look at, before he got to work. I have no photo of the thing, but I’ve looked at a lot of scooter photos, to see if I could find something close. I think now, that it was a Cushman. There is no one left to ask! — It was grey. It had a rubber mat on the floor, a front fender, lights, and a little body which covered the engine and featured a cargo container, located over the back wheel. Dad got it shined up pretty good. It looked a little better now. He also managed to tune up the motor a little. I think he had taken a class in high school, somewhere around 1935, where he learned how to work on small engines. With a screwdriver and a couple of wrenches, he got that motor put-puttin’ along nicely, there on the front lawn. Nope, he never did try riding it. I can’t say why, other than, well, Daddy never was — Oh, you know….
Well, Monday morning came, and Daddy got up, had a small breakfast, did his grooming routine, and put on a nice grey suit. I guess he wanted to match his new ride. At the appointed hour of departure, he said, “Well, I believe I’m going in to work now”. He always liked to say that, right before he left.
We watched as Daddy carefully placed his black briefcase in the scooter’s cargo compartment. Then, he got on the shiny thing and sat down. He strapped on an old helmet which looked like it came from the car races back in the 40’s. He started the thing with his foot, revved up the motor once or twice, tried the horn, “Beep, beep, beeeeeeep!” just to make sure it worked, and put the thing into gear. He began rolling across our yard, not too fast; but he was making his way out of the yard and onto the road.
But first, he drove right into a ditch that ran across our yard. Luckily, it had very little water in it. – I had no idea what purpose the ditch served. I was barely out of the baby stage of life. But Daddy drove his scooter right into the ditch, and its front wheel made contact with the far side of the ditch. Then, two things happened: the motor died, and Daddy was thrown off the scooter. Not hard or anything. But he was thrown off, all the same. He landed on the soft, spongy grass. He sat there for a minute, appearing to be deep in thought. Then, he slowly got up and brushed the grass off his suit. I noticed it had a couple of grass stains on it. He turned to the three of us, as we stood there, silently taking it all in, and said, with a half-smile, “I don’t believe I’m going in to work today”. And then, we all burst out laughing! Daddy went in the house and made a pot of coffee, pulled his chair up to our little kitchen table, poured a cup for Mom, sat back and relaxed.
After a few days of searching, Daddy found a Pontiac Chieftain, 1949 vintage. I remember he painted a red stripe down its middle. Not sure why. Maybe he thought it would go faster….