February 8, 2022
Last week on his way home from college at Oral Robert University my grandson Jonah wrecked his car. Hi hit a patch of ice, slid off the road and the car flipped on its side. Praise the Lord he wasn’t injured but his old black Honda was totaled. To make it worse his phone fell out of the car in the accident and was ruined too. If you know of anyone with a decent used car for sale PM me.
In sharing the incident with my brother John it brought memories of an accident we had in November of 1966. We had gone on a double date to the movies that night. John was with his girlfriend Phyllis. A pretty dark haired girl with bright eyes. He was crazy about her. Both John & Phyllis had graduated the previous year and they had met at work at the Hallmark Cards factory.
I was with my first ever girlfriend Sandra. Today she is known as Sandy but at that time she went by Sandra to differentiate because my best friend Herb was dating her neighbor named Sandi. It is never good for best friends to get their girls mixed up.
Sandra was a cute little dishwater blond with pouty lips, a baby doll figure and a talkative personality. We had met over the summer under a street light between the two Sandy’s houses.
We went to the historic Uptown Theatre in downtown Kansas City. Walking into the theatre that night was breathtaking. The auditorium was huge seating 2,300 people between the main floor and the balcony. It looked like a Mediterranean courtyard, with beautiful white arches and columns. The side walls were covered with sea side murals of blue waters, seagulls and wispy clouds. When the lights went down the ceiling looked like the nighttime sky with glittering stars. It was a magical experience for a Ford full of teenagers.
John & Phyllis had been there before but it was our first time. I remember how wide Sandra’s eyes opened as we walked into the theatre. John noticed it too and he turned aside to me, smiled and gave me the thumbs up, “It’s going to be a good night!” I fantasized.
The flick was a comedy called “The Fortune Cookie” with Jack Lemon and Walter Matthau. It was the first movie the two stars ever made together. If you have been around for a while you probably remember the Odd Couple and the Grumpy Old Men movies.
It was the height of our romance and I remember watching the coming attractions before our show. After each preview I would look in Sandra’s eyes and say. “We will see that movie together!” Lame I know but after all romance is a skill of the heart and this puppy was clumsy. Happily it worked because each time I was rewarded with a smile and a look that oozed goosebumps. We held hands for the duration that night. It is amazing how the first love sends flutters to your memory.
Paradoxically we left the opulence of the Uptown to a burger stand after the film. Jim G’s the Oak Park High School hangout was a bit of a drive but we didn’t care. Gas was only 31 cents a gallon and your car was your living and dining room at that age. We had burgers, fries and cokes. Well the girls just had fries and cokes. Girls never eat much around guys. John & I ate the burgers, at that age guys can always eat a hamburger.
John’s white 1964 two door Ford Fairlane 500 served as our private booth to enjoy our post movie cuisine. We talked, ate and teased the girls. Either one of us could throw a flirtatious joke but when you put John and I in competition we could challenge Rowan & Martin’s “Laugh Inn”. We didn’t worry about the cold temps as it made the girls sit closer. Eventually they would convince us to run the car long enough to break the chill.
The romantic comedy continued as we listened to rock station WHB on the AM radio. Our mixed quartet karaoke’d Good Vibrations by the Beach Boys. We joined in on Monday Monday with the Mamas & the Papas. Tom Cruise and Val Kilmer had nothing on us as John and I poorly crooned along with The Righteous Brothers to “You’ve lost that lovin feeling”. The girls rewarded us with giggles and rolling eyes.
We drug the night out in that parking lot till time to deposit the girls to the porch lights. Sandra lived on the north side of Kansas City close to our home. Phyllis however lived about 40 minutes south in the KC suburb of Grandview.
We dropped Sandra off first. John and Phyllis waited as I walked my steady to the door. With her back against the wall next to the front door we smooched till her mom blinked the porch light twice. A third blink would have threatened future courting.
I smiled at the moon as I walked back to the Fairlane, pleased and proud of the osculations (That’s a fancy word for kissing). When I got to the car John & Phyllis had moved to the back seat. I knew the drill, it was “home James” and keep your eyes in front.
At the door I sat passively through final good nights and John’s smiling return to the Ford.
It was John’s car but since i was already in the captains chair he swung into the “Shotgun” position. I pulled out with the driving style of a widow lady till we were out of sight and sound to leave a good impression.
Now close to midnight it was a dark quiet drive as the cold weather had lightened Saturday night traffic. The windshield wipers rattled while dismissing a light mist that had joined us on the trip home.
The brother time was rich as we followed the North Star home. We talked some, laughed some but were not troubled by the quiet pauses that punctuated our return.
We were just minutes from home when we came upon the overpass of I-29 over Russel Road. There is a slight curve on that bridge and I never saw the black ice. The tires deserted the pavement, we left the safety of white lines and were flying head first off the road down the 40 foot embankment.
This was the first time I had ever heard my brother pray. My mind preserved the glimpse as he braced himself against the back of the car seat, eyes widened and he shouted out “help us Jesus!”
At that instant the left front of the car clipped something, I assume a street light. John doesn’t remember us hitting anything. All I know is suddenly the car spun and we ended up sliding down the hill trunk first. The car came to rest at the bottom of the drop with a jolt. We looked at each other. Not a scratch or bruise on either brother and the car stuck on the hill but barely damaged. There were no seatbelts in that Fairlane. Had the car not turned we would most likely had gone through the windshield when we hit bottom but instead we were craddled by the seatback.
We got out of the car, surveyed the destruction and decided to walk home from where we were. We never woke them up when we got home late at night so mom and dad were startled by our knock on their bedroom door at one in the morning. “What’s wrong?” Mom asked with terror in her voice.
The police were called and a polite highway patrolman showed up in the wee morning hours for the report. He refrained from ticketing us because after we left the scene 3 other cars had flown off the same place and landed on the Fairlane taking it off the road forever. Had we not left when we did, they most likely would have landed on the Willoughby boys too. I guess the Maker had more roads for us to travel.
I never saw that car again. It was replaced by a two door 1965 Chevy Impala with a 4 barrel carburetor that would plant you on the seatback with a punch to the gas pedal. John and I are the final pair of the nine souls born to Harold & Mildred. Neither one of us married our winsome dates from that double but I still hold dear the romance that sweetened my youth.