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August 14, 1998

Ruminating the other day about that gasoline heater in my first post-war car has opened the gates to the recollection of other memorable automobiles along the landscape of my life. There was the faithful family sedan, a bulky, black Buick with that old-fashioned, on-the-floor stick shift, the car that I remember from my earliest childhood in the late 1920s and on into the 1930s.

I had a paper route at the time, delivering the now-defunct Oklahoma News to 12 subscribers. Ten of them were on the square, but the other two were at residences far separated - one at the west end of Fir avenue, which then pretty much terminated at Fourteenth street as far as homes were concerned, and the other in the vicinity of Jay Dauman park, on the east side of town. Normally I could cover that route in short order on my trusty balloon-tired bicycle, but in cold weather Mother took pity on me. We had a young employee at the City Drug Store named Sylvester Holly, and Mother had him drive me to the east and west subscriber locations when weather conditions seemed appropriate.

Syl, as Mr. Holly preferred to be called, didn't mind the duty, but it was boring for him and he soon discovered that I was curious about the car's operation. He showed me the gear shift pattern, which incidentally was in the form of an H, just like today, but with the sequence of first, second, third and reverse gears in the opposite order of today's arrangement. He also showed me the gas pedal and let me try turning the steering wheel while the car was stopped. That was enough instruction, he decided. He told me to drive.

I, of course, was only too willing and eager to do so, though I had to sort of hunch up and peer over the dashboard to see where I was going. In fairly short order I learned about using the clutch without completely stripping the gears. I found a safe level for using the gasoline pedal, but also discovered how to use the two small levers on the steering column, near the horn button, to choke or accelerate the car. They constituted a sort of primitive cruise control.

Syl was an exceedingly handsome man. He had a muscular, athletic build, wore a dapper, pencil-thin mustache and when he flashed a dazzling smile that showed off his pearly white teeth, many female hearts went pitter-patter. Riding in the Buick was a prestige-builder for him, even with an almost invisible 10-year-old driver at the controls in the seat beside him. Syl waved at every available acquaintance and not a few strangers. He did not mind if I took the longest possible way to cover those last two stops on my paper route, so it was a mutually enjoyable experience for the two of us.

If Mother worried about the length of time it took us to deliver those last two papers, or questioned the frequency that I requested the car in lieu of my bicycle, she never let on about it. One day, however, someone remarked to her in a joking manner that it was a strange sight to see me driving the car around town, barely visible in the dark recesses of that monstrously big car. That pretty much brought the adventure to a close. Drivers licenses were unknown in Oklahoma at that time, but Mother thought I should at least be big enough to see over the steering wheel without a pillow to sit on if I was going to drive the family auto. That came a few years later, and then I had to relearn the gear shift pattern all over again.