For about 20 years, Mother worked for her brother, who owned a used car lot in North Little Rock and back then with little money to buy much for our family of three boys, she would keep an eye for good car deals. She moved to our home in 1988 and built a garage apartment behind our house. The following story spans about five years from just before she moved down to the point at which we began building her home with us.
Mother called her voice full of excitement. “Ok, I found one! It’s really CLASSY, just what you asked for – roomy, and it’s a one-owner, an old woman from Cabot. Her son decided she needed something smaller.”
Her description continued, synonyms of “classy” liberally interspersed. “It’s got leather seats, WHITE LEATHER seats. The woman who owned it was RICH! I am going to worn you, your neighbors might be a little ENVIOUS.” A small doubt surfaced. “Mom, what kind of car is it?” Almost reverently she says, “It’s a ’79 Lincoln Town Coupe, two door of course.” She said this like she was announcing I was the winner of the Arkansas Beauty Pageant. I experienced a definite twinge of apprehension. Mother’s taste in cars tended to run too slightly flashier than mine. “It’s cream yellow with a white soft top and EVERYTHING is electric.”
“Mom, will it work for me and the three boys running around in Houston. I mean what kind of gas mileage does it get? Does the air conditioner work? Do you think it’s been in a wreck or had any major mechanical problems?” “Janet, this is a LINCOLN. If you don’t like it you don’t have to buy it, I didn’t think it was a good idea when you asked me to look around for you.”
She was getting a little miffed. She worked for Uncle Cecil, the crème puff used car dealer of Little Rock and she had already expressed doubt that long distance car buying wasn’t a good idea. “Mom, I’m sorry. It sounds great. Really. What does Neil think of it?” “Well, your brother is right here, ask him.” Neil reiterates its clean, in good shape, and then there is that word, roomy, which he mentions at least 5 times. “It’s got plenty of room for those three boys”, he says. Mom uses the word ‘elegant’ a couple more times and in spite of my growing apprehension, I tell her, “buy it”. I mean, how bad could a good car be?
Bob is waiting, “Well?” ” I try to put the best face on it, counting on my husband’s easy going nature. “She is going to drive it down next week. I think it will be fine.” Janet, what year did you say it was?” “‘ 79”. He had that look on his face. The one that says he has something he thinks need to be said very delicately and he is not sure he is capable. “Hmmm…. a ’79 Lincoln Town Coupe. I think they downsized those cars a year or two later. That must be one of the last of…” He didn’t finish.
Mother pulled in the driveway the next weekend, smiling and proud. The boys gawked in amazement and Bob guided her into the driveway. “Roomy” was an understatement. That car was at least 20 foot long; it barely fit the length of pavement of our driveway without sticking out into the street. But what was more alarming was that most of the length was distributed among the hood or trunk. I’d say it weighed at least 3/4 of a ton, honestly. A good portion of that in the two doors. Bob popped the trunk, which slowly-majestically, lifted into the air and remarked that if we ever needed to we could probably pack a coffin, you know just in case. He opened the hood, which housed a 460 cubic inch, 8-cylinder engine with a four-barrel carburetor, and a gas tank big enough to lower the rear end when it was full. (A large gas tank in this car is totally farsighted, believe me.)
All I could think of was it looked like a drug dealers car or worse. It might have been classy, but not in 1986. The first remark the neighbors made, and I wouldn’t go so far as to describe their expression as envious, was that they could always tell it was me driving, because the car looked like it was being driven by a headless entity, my head barely clearing the steering wheel. Maybe only really tall people are suppose to buy Lincoln’s.
There were no fights over which son sat in the front seat, because nobody wanted to be there – they couldn’t see out the windows, over the dash, or the hood. The most favored position became the middle pull down back seat armrest – cushy, it was roomy enough for pretty wide contact, AND you cold see out.
Everytime I got behind the wheel, I felt like I was steering a Bolivar ferryboat. When I parked it was completely analogous to docking. You know, just like the guys do on the ferries, lightly bouncing off various bumpers, back out again, gun the engine to get past the inertia and give it another go. However, this was only a stop gap measure as parking spaces got smaller and then one day after finally getting her parked, the awful truth hit. The Lincoln was longer than the full size van I was parked to. Dad always said humility was good for the soul, and it’s my opinion there is no quicker route to being humbled than driving a vehicle that in no way says who you are or who you want people to think you are. Humbled, I began taking up two spaces.
By the time I had chauffeured the oldest into his teens, the boys had christened her, not so lovingly, the ‘Stinkin’ Lincoln”. An unpleasant smell seemed to be imbedded in the cracking white leather, which no amount of Murphy’s Oil Soap could obliterate. It was somewhat unfair of the boys because I believe it was their fault, at least originally. Sort of a combination of kid sweat, spilled milk, diaper droppings, ancient fast food grease with French fries, and Red dog hair ground into white leather and incubated by Houston summers. My husband insisted that my ministrations were exacerbating the situation. So when the air conditioner went out, there was not much complaint. Mostly we all tried to hang our noses out of the only two windows and silently considered it a blessing.
We rode and drove and the ‘classy’ parts one by one gave way. First the electric antennae no longer came up when the radio was turned on, then the fabric top developed a fungus, next, two hubcaps fell off while navigating a curve and misjudging the gutter, and then, the final insult. The left front retractable headlamp refused to retract, thereafter to remain open. The car was hardly unnoticeable as it was, this newest development seemed to scream for attention. The boys gleefully renamed her the ‘Winkin’ Lincoln’ which seemed a gentler monker and yet; it was funny when you said it but not so funny when you saw it. The neighborhood kids were quick on the uptake and there was never any mistake of our identity when we were on the road
What none of us realized was that the Lincoln was about to take on a whole new identity. Consider this. If you are going to build an apartment behind your house for your mother who has decided its now or never to move to Houston, and you don’t have a truck to carry and pull for you, what could possibly be the next best thing? Right – a vehicle with a trunk roughly the size of a pickup bed, enough horsepower to pull whatever you could carry and a slightly swishy but otherwise heavy duty suspension. The Lincoln was all we needed.
Without comment, Bob installed a trailer hitch.
We started out small. First there were trips to Home Depot to pick up toilets, electrical wire, linoleum. No problem so we advanced – air conditioner ductwork, the compressor, and a hot water tank. In the meantime, Bob decided the trailer hitch could pull the old johnboat and homemade trailer. This not only opened up possibilities for his leisure activities but also from my perspective added an unconsidered dimension to the Lincoln’s delivery repertoire. Mother ordered a black, wrought iron spiral staircase. I devised a way to get it to the house. This particular request was the only time in my married life that one of my more zany ideas was not silently agreed to by my husband. He was vocal. “You want me to strap WHAT on that homemade trailer and cart it where?!” “Bob, it doesn’t weigh much, it’s just awkward.”
I didn’t go with him to the wrought iron shop off south 59. I figured there was little I could do and it was probably best for him to do it alone. Several hours later and in surprisingly good humor, he backed the staircase up the driveway. The trailer tongue only scraped a little going up and the Lincoln didn’t have a scratch on her. The staircase measured 13 ½ feet long and 65 inches in diameter and it seems to fit that homemade trailer like an old woman in a rocking chair. The only comment my quiet man uttered was something on the order of “I don’t think traffic on 59 has ever seen anything to compare.”
But by far, the most heroic effort we ever asked of the Lincoln was the day we loaded bricks into the trunk. Six columns stood underneath the newly constructed apartment and they needed to be faced with brick. When we arrived at the supplier, Mother wrote her check and the guy told us without looking up, “Take your truck around the side and they will load them for you.”
Windows down, one headlight up, engine purring, I backed the Lincoln a block down the brick alley and stopped where the man and his forklift waited. He didn’t say a word as I popped the trunk and she rose to reveal a majestically deep and sturdy hold. His smile now a little tight, like it might burst, the man put on his rough work gloves, climbed down out of the forklift and cut the metal bands on the brick. He began to load. He didn’t have more than 2 layers of brick and she looked like I just filled her gas tank. When the trunk was about two thirds full, he stopped and looked at me. I nodded. Three quarters full and I walked around the car. The rear bumper was about a foot off the ground and the front one was off 18 inches.
“I think she can go one more layer. These things are pretty sturdy, but I don’t know about the rest.” My, I never dreamed brick could weigh so much! We put the remaining load in the back seat and although it seemed to have evened the incline out a bit, now the tires, especially the back ones looked like squashed balloons. “How much do you figure it all weighs?” I say. Without a moments hesitation he says, “1,750 pounds, ma’am.” With the same smile, he shakes my hand, shakes his head, and says “If the tires don’t blow, you might make it.”
If I looked headless driving before, it was hopeless now. I accelerated, watched the needle on the gas tank dip and headed off. Never have I ever, before or since, driven a vehicle that handled quite like that. Bumps, curves, railroad tracks, speed, braking…everything seemed to lift the front end off the pavement in a lethargic slow motion lurch. I spent the indeterminable ride home assessing all the possible catastrophes that could occur under the present situation and their solutions. I was stumped on what to do with a blowout; the spare sat under 1200 pounds of brick. About half way home, Mother looked up from balancing her checkbook and said “the old Lincoln doesn’t ride like she used to. You probably ought to think about selling her.”
We finished the apartment and sold her in 1991 for $800 and a watermelon. A man who owned a horse farm off Greens Road bought her and I was never quite sure whether he saw her as the workhorse she was or hoped to restore her to former glory. Whatever he did, I hope he fixed her headlight.