Hagebak: I’d love another ride in ‘Old Crow’

Published 6:13 pm Friday, February 3, 2017


My Grandmaw Kirby was an amazing woman. She grew up over in the Old Country of Randolph County, Alabama, plowing with a mule and going to town in a buggy drawn by Old Dan the horse. I sometimes wonder if that mule and Old Dan tried to hide when Grandmaw went to hitch them up. Maybe she wasn’t quite the road menace with four-legged transport as she was with a 90-horsepower three-speed, but I’ll bet those fields were ploughed in record time.

“Old Crow” was a 1949 Chevy; black as sin and just as mean. Grandmaw bought her when she moved to LaGrange. She was about a block long and over six feet wide, and Grandmaw was so proud of her that she parked her inside her fenced-in yard, at least until the chickens discovered how much fun it was to fly up to the car’s roof and slide down the windshield, squawking and flapping with glee. After that, Old Crow was parked in front of the house, on the street. Grandmaw had to climb a steep set of stairs to get from the street to her house, but she couldn’t have the chickens making an amusement park ride out of her pride and joy!

I guess she was once just “Crow,” but Old Crow was already a senior citizen by the time I came along. She had some chicken scratches, and her paint job was a little faded. Her upholstery had a few tears, but she and Grandmaw were kindred spirits, and those two ruled the road around the Park Avenue-Elm City neighborhood. I can remember other cars turning into side streets when they saw us coming, and I’m sure there was a running bet among the neighbors about whether we would return from any given trip.

Grandmaw had a driver’s license, but she must’ve batted her eyelashes at the examiner, because a worse driver was never born. She thought the center line was a track meant to be a guide, so she would direct Old Crow to the middle of the road, press the gas pedal all the way to the floorboard, and roar off, one hand on the horn to make sure all the other drivers got out of her way. If she was low on gas, she put on even more speed, so that she could get where she was going before Old Crow ran out of fuel.

The back seat of Grandmaw’s car was nothing like the flat, boring old safety-conscious seats of today. No, it was like a giant overstuffed easy chair, complete with a couple of places where the springs had ploinked through the covering, and little wads of cotton batting ploughed out, just begging for a kid to grab a handful. I don’t remember if she had seat belts, but I doubt it. I picture Grandmaw at the dealer, scoffing “Seat belts? I don’t need no stinking seat belts!” If they were there, we never used them, and how we survived, I don’t know.

Brother and I would sit on that huge back seat, eyes wide. The ride always started out with us bouncing around like a couple of ping pong balls, crawling into the foot wells and hanging onto the back of Grandmaw’s seat. That didn’t last for long, though because once Old Crow hit warp speed, inertia kept us mashed against the backrest, the G’s stretching our little faces into horrified grins. And when Old Crow went around a curve, we sllliiiid across the seat, both of us landing mashed together against whichever door was on the inside of the curve, unless one of those exposed springs got us by the britches and hung us in midair, arms and legs flailing until the road straightened and we were unceremoniously dumped back onto the big bench seat, terrified and giggling at the same time.

I don’t remember Grandmaw ever getting a ticket. I don’t think she was ever even pulled over, because she probably wouldn’t have stopped for piddly old blue lights, and a siren would’ve just made her go faster, and I never saw her photo on a wanted poster at the Post Office. She gave up driving when Old Crow finally went to that big garage in the sky. Everyone was relieved, but a little sad. I found her license in a drawer one day and as I looked at the faded photo of Grandmaw, with her fierce expression and the need-for-speed flashing in her eyes, I wished, for just a second or two, for one more sliiiide with Brother across that big old back seat.


Pepper Ellis Hagebak spends her days framing other people’s art and her nights lost in the beauty of words.