Friday, November 14, 2008

Darlene, Chic, and the '49 Mercury

It’s amazing how events that happened so many years ago sometimes get trapped back in the RAM (random access memory) located in the deepest recesses of your mind. I haven’t thought much about the ’49 Mercury for years until I read last week’s Elnora Post article about Carlos and Darlene Arney’s 50th wedding anniversary celebration. I, too, would like to offer my congratulations to the devoted couple as I think back to a year-long simple act of kindness that helped make it possible for me to continue my education.

September, 1955, marked the beginning of a new school year. I was entering the seventh grade as an apprehensive ten-year-old who wouldn’t turn eleven until later in the month. My grandfather had just died a few weeks earlier, I had lost my “at home” state-sponsored tutor, and I was heading off to school for the first time. As if these obstacles weren’t enough for someone my age who had never been taught in a real classroom or known the competition of interacting with actual classmates, I had one other major problem: I didn’t have a way to get to school.

We lived on the far northeast side of Elnora, and the school building was located on the far southwest side, more than a mile away. There were five buses that hauled the country kids to school, but the “townies” had to walk or find other means of transportation. Although I could traipse the half mile to the downtown business district on my braces and crutches, I was afraid to tackle the extra distance all the way to school, especially with the thought of winter coming in just a few months. A few of the town kids had their own cars and drove to school, but most didn’t. And, almost all of the kids who lived near us were around my age, not nearly old enough to drive.

There was one exception. Buren and Juanita Williams lived exactly one block south of our house with their two daughters, Wanda Williams and Judith Darlene Miller who nearly everyone called Darlene. Wanda was an eighth-grader, and Darlene was a sophomore with a brand-new driver’s license. Mr. & Mrs. Williams did not have an “extra” vehicle, but Buren made an agreement with my father that if we would furnish a car, Darlene would make sure I got to school. I’m not sure where he got it, but a few days later, my dad came home with a 1949 Mercury four-door sedan which he promptly handed over to the Williams family.

So, every morning, Darlene, Wanda, and Darlene’s senior boyfriend Carlos “Chic” Arney would pick me up at my parents’ house, take me to school, and bring me back home each afternoon. Some days (I don’t think my parents ever knew) we would pick up other kids and the size of my spot in the back seat would become inversely proportional to the number of people in the car. Most of the time spent in that old Mercury was a blur, but I still smile when I remember some adult conversations which my sheltered ears didn’t really understand and I was afraid to ask my parents to explain.

Although I didn’t realize it at the time, after that seventh grade year, my rides to school in the Mercury had ended. My parents had always preferred that I ride to school in the safety of a school bus, if possible. One of the five school bus drivers, Kenneth Cornell, lived just a block or so west of our house and he agreed to take me to school on his bus. The only caveat was that since his bus began its route in the opposite direction, I would have to walk to his house in both good weather and bad because the antiquated 1950’s laws wouldn’t allow him to go out of his way to pick me up, regardless of my physical disability or how close he lived to us. So, my dad got rid of the Mercury and I began “secretly” riding Mr. Cornell’s bus in the eighth grade. However, beginning with my freshman year, the school’s administration finally chose to do the right thing and blatantly ignore the unfair law. This allowed the regular bus driver who traversed the road in front of our house every morning to pick me up, forever ending my school transportation problems.

I wasn’t at all surprised to see that Darlene and Carlos have remained together all of these years. It was obvious they were meant for each other then, and now it’s even more obvious they still are. I sincerely thank them again for helping me when I needed it most and wish them another happy fifty years together.