The Planted Row: Passing on a tradition of independence

Stan Wise Farm Forum Editor
Farm Forum

This week, we celebrate the signing of a document that asserts our claim to “certain unalienable Rights,” including “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

When I was a teenager, both liberty and the pursuit of happiness were tied up in one thing: a car. As the day I would get my license approached, I wondered anxiously what kind of car my father would get for me. I didn’t expect anything fancy, but I couldn’t keep from hoping that my first car might be just cool enough to avoid ridicule from classmates.

One day, my father declared that he was going to trade an old, beat-up farm truck sporting significant body damage for a car that I could drive.

My heart sank. What kind of car could he get for an old, wrecked farm truck? He must have seen the look on my face because he reminded me that truck had a custom-built racing engine in it someone had installed to repay a favor. My spirits rose a little. “What kind of car is it?” I asked.

“A Mustang,” he said.

I was going to drive a Mustang? I couldn’t believe my ears! I could feel my social capital rising by the moment.

It wasn’t long, however, until I learned exactly what kind of Mustang it was. It was the fall of 1993, and I was the new owner of a white 1982 Mustang LX … with a tiny four-cylinder engine. The body was made to support an eight-cylinder engine, and I could almost stand in the empty space between the nose of the engine and the radiator.

The paint was scuffed in several places, but there were no major dents in the body. The interior, however, was a disaster. I did my best to clean it, but there was no hiding the numerous stains and cigarette burns in the carpet and upholstery. There was no covering that old cigarette smell; though, I tried with every air freshener I could find.

Still, it was a Mustang, and I loved it. I drove it like I was one of the Dukes of Hazzard, and I jumped every set of raised railroad tracks I could find. Dad couldn’t understand why he needed to have new struts installed only a year after I got it.

The girls in high school didn’t seem to mind the interior too much because almost every kid in my high school had an old car. However, I’ll never forget the day in my first semester at Mississippi State University when the girl I had a crush on asked me to give her a ride to her next class. I sheepishly said, “Sure, but you’ll have to excuse the state of my car.”

She looked at me with kind eyes and said, “Stan, I’m not the kind of girl who would judge a guy based on his car.”

So, I gave her a ride, and she never spoke to me again.

It wasn’t long until my sister needed a car, and I graduated to a somewhat nicer truck. Still, I’ll never forget the mix of joy and embarrassment that car brought me. I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything.

So, I’m giving my son the chance to feel the same way. I’m passing down the little 16-year-old Ford Escape that I have driven for the past 13 years. As I helped him detail the interior last weekend, I noticed that it’s only slightly better than the inside of my first car.

I can’t believe I have somehow grown old enough to pass down a car to a son. In my head I still feel like that 16-year-old kid enjoying his first taste of independence. However, my pride at seeing my son take his first steps toward adulthood and responsibility feels better than anything I ever did in that old Mustang.