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Marc & Darlene Jennings
On November 14, 2009 I celebrated my 62nd birthday. Throughout my life, with a few exceptions, I haven’t considered birthdays to be a really big deal, but simply a milestone in life that should be noted and kept in proper perspective. My plan for this day was modest. Darlene and I would spend the morning emailing other members of the Gang of Four plus One, as has become our custom on weekends. The Gang of Four plus One exists to keep alive the memories of our years at FHS, and sometimes just to keep our memories, since they have begun to fail at an alarming rate.
As I started the morning at a civilized hour, it wasn’t long before I realized that our Webmaster of Oz, Tommy-Boy Kender, had managed to put together a beautiful and very touching web page that included audio and written comments from my friends, family and classmates wishing me a happy birthday and saying nice things about me. Darlene and I listened to the audio remarks and she made me read aloud the comments of all. I have to say that it was difficult to get through them all while keeping some manly composure. The feelings I had afterward were warmth, gratitude, love and a sense that I am not worthy enough to have such wonderful people in my life. I don’t think I ever had a gift that touched me so deeply. I wish everyone could experience something similar before their funerals.
After I called Webmaster Tommy to thank him, Darlene asked me what our plan for the rest of the day was. Having none, Darlene planned our day for us as she usually does. So we got busy getting ready for the Birthday Adventure. We were going to cruise around country roads with the top down on our faithful Ms. Miata. We purchased Ms. 1994 Miata in December, 1993 at Dave Dennis Mazda across Col. Glenn Highway from Wright Patterson AFB. She has 81,000 miles on her and she has been pampered almost as much as Darlene. She belongs to her, although I am allowed to drive on adventures. We put down the top and packed our camera in the trunk (which is big enough to carry a head of lettuce and a sleeve of golf balls). There was not a cloud in the sky and the temperature was predicted to be 76 degrees.
The first point on the adventure was Braselton, GA, where we would later finish the day. Braselton was having a tree-lighting festival today. They have a big Christmas tree in town and someone came up with the idea of having the earliest tree lighting in the country. I suspect this is to compete with the town of Hoschton, just 100 yards away, that last year came up with the idea of having the most scarecrows in the world. I know this all sounds pretty dumb, but Americans are liable to come up with crazy ideas from time to time.
After we sped through the only traffic signal in downtown Braselton, we turned northeast and headed off on Georgia Route 60. Soon we turned east toward the historic town of Talmo, GA. I don’t know why Talmo is historic, but I do know that Darlene and I have driven through it at least 20 times and never seen a living soul; not even a dog or cat. There is an old mill and there are lots of houses, there just aren’t any people (that go outside). It could be that Talmo was built for an episode of the Twilight Zone, or some horrible nuclear accident wiped everybody out, or that the entire population is composed of nocturnal vampires. Whatever it is, this fairly normal looking little town seems to get advance warning when Darlene and I are coming and they all disappear.
Scratching our heads that Talmo was once again empty, we headed to Pendergrass, GA. Pendergrass is a couple of buildings along the railroad tracks. A resident of the town once wrote a letter to the editor complaining of members of the police force doing “donuts” in their cruisers in the middle of the road. There is not much going on in Pendergrass, ever. However, one member of the Pendergrass police force was Richard Jewell, the young man who, while serving as a security guard at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, was falsely accused of responsibility for the bombing that took a life during those games. Richard, who recently passed away, was a decent man who just wanted to serve in law enforcement.
Leaving Pendergrass, Darlene and I headed through more lovely pastoral areas. We have had lots of rain this year and the cattle are fat. Just then Darlene suggested we go to Commerce, GA home of “Whispering” Bill Anderson, Nashville songwriting legend, when he wrote his first big hit, “City Lights” in 1961. Before reaching Commerce, we drove through the little town of Jefferson, GA, where in 1842 Dr. Crawford Long (whose cousin was Doc Holiday) performed the first surgery using ether as an anesthetic. Many years later Darlene and I got to try this stuff as we both had our tonsils removed at age 5 and 4 respectively.
From Jefferson, we turned onto Georgia Route 15 where the road forks at the “Chili Dawg” stand. This is where Kenny Rogers comes to get his chili dogs as he builds his new estate a few miles up the road. We then drove through Apple Valley. I have never seen any apples in Apple Valley, but it has very pretty countryside. Soon we approached Commerce, GA. Commerce, like many southern towns of moderate size, was once a mill town. The typical mill town produced cotton fabrics and other textiles. The mills have long since moved to China, Indonesia and Vietnam, and the towns are not centers of trade for the surrounding countryside as they once were. But they retain their character and are reminiscent of a time in America now just a memory—kind of like our Stories web site.
I like Commerce. For one thing it has railroad tracks that go right down the middle of the main street. When a train goes through now, it is full of Toyotas from the huge Toyota distribution center outside of town. But it doesn’t take much imagination to picture steam locomotives chugging slowly through town and scaring the farmers’ mules. In present day, you can find a lot of antique shops in Commerce, as well as a discount mall down by the interstate.
Today, we go to My Daughter’s Antiques where Darlene is well known by the proprietor. This is a lady who grew up mostly in Mobile, Alabama. Her father worked for the railroad and their home was a railroad car modified to have two bedrooms, a kitchen, bath and living room. When her father finished a welding assignment in one place, a locomotive would hook up and pull them to the next place that needed some welding. Darlene managed to find several treasures in this shop. Darlene has a thrifty Scottish heritage and is only pleased with a purchase if she can get it for next to nothing, which is fortunate for me.
Packing up our treasures, we manage to fit them into the trunk of Ms. Miata and head back to Braselton to the huge classic car cruise-in being held in conjunction with the tree lighting celebration, and where we will finish the day. After parking and walking over to the display area we are met with a sea of classic cars, street rods and other vehicles of all descriptions. It is like walking into Rikes Toyland as a kid: what do I look at first? Loudspeakers are playing oldies music and I find it easy to transport myself back to a time in the late fifties and early sixties when many of these cars, or ones like them, were driving the streets of Dayton. Today we are looking for 1966 cars and the first one we see is a restored Buick Gran Sport. After that, we see two red 1966 Corvette Sting Rays and a 1966 Pontiac GTO.
Darlene is drawn to a beautiful, Fiesta Red (looks Salmon) 1956 Ford Thunderbird. As I take her picture by the car the owner came up to us. He is a nice guy, a year older than us. He says he is a native of Atlanta and saw this car when he was visiting his grandfather’s home in 1956. It made a 10 year old kid stop playing to look at it. The car now has 53,000 miles on it. In 1984 he went back to the neighborhood and asked if anybody remembered this car. It turned out that it was in the garage of the original owner, now 90 years old. It had 1972 plates on it. The owner asked $10,000 for it which our guy could not come up with. He told a friend who bought it instead. This friend later agreed to sell it to our guy, feeling guilty for buying it without telling his plans.
The current owner’s father just so happened to work at the Lakewood (Atlanta suburb) Ford assembly plant that built Thunderbirds in the fifties. His father thought he was a fool for buying the car. He said the Thunderbird was thrown together quickly to compete with the Chevrolet Corvette. Furthermore, he said they were pieces of crap when they rolled out of the factory. Sounds funny to say this about such an automobile icon, but I believe it. The owner showed me a dent in the underside of the hood. He explained that at the factory they put a two by four board on the edge of the engine compartment under the windshield. Then they closed the hood on this board while two workers stood on either side of the car and pushed the sides of the hood down until it bowed up enough to fit the opening. Sounds like real automotive engineering precision!
The owner had these long mirrors on the ground so you could see underneath. Darlene and I noticed that the underside was painted turquoise, another fifties color. The owner explained this was called “batch paint”. Whatever paint color was left over from the previous day’s run was sprayed on the underside of the following day’s cars. Despite the lack of precision manufacturing, this was a beautiful car and I can tell you Darlene and I would have loved to drive off in it.
The sun began to fade as we walked down the final aisle of cars and we reluctantly bid farewell to the gorgeous beauties. The oldies had been replaced by a high school choir singing Christmas carols and it didn’t sound right at this time of year. We drove off, top up, to a local home-cooking restaurant, The Front Porch, and both of us splurged on a huge piece of fried chicken with two sides and some banana pudding.
We pulled Ms. Miata into the garage about 7:00 PM, happy with our adventure and ready for another next weekend. But we have decided to include no more pictures of us. Since they show us getting old, from now on we will photo shop Cary Grant and Brigitte Bardot in all photos.