Dad's Life on Wheels
By Jim Kent
As all the world knows, J. Donald Kent, Maj., USAF Retired, voluntarily stopped driving on 4th of December 2015, three weeks before his 98th birthday. On the 7th those of us who were in town took him out to dinner. Since it was Pearl Harbor Day, the original plan was to go to the Japanese restaurant and get bombed, but they aren’t open on Mondays. Stella’s, an Italian joint in Front Street, was a more than satisfactory substitute.
Since practically everyone else in the world was elsewhere, it seemed like some sort of duty to get an outline of what he was giving up, the plan being to write up something very like this document and inflict it on as many innocents as we could think of. So I came equipped with a few questions.
I forgot to tell him why this was happening, until he asked if we were administering some sort of memory test. He was much reassured that we were just trying to get a record. This has been reviewed, revised, and corrected by The Major and others who were in attendance.
(Not the Interviewer has two forms of asides: (simple clarifications are in parentheses)[longer glosses are bracketed and italicized].
What was the first car your parents had?
The first one he recalls was of course a Ford, about a 1922. It was a Model T, which meant you had to crank it from the front, then run around and get in the driver’s seat, meanwhile trying to avoid letting the car run over you as it putted forward. His family were among the earlier car-owners in Kingston (New York). [Perhaps this was partly because his father was a pretty good mechanic, so breakdowns—common at the time—were not quite as scary for them. Cars were not mechanically complicated, but the early ones were unreliable.]
When was the first time you drove a car? What kind was it?
He was 14 or 15, and it was a Model A. He wasn’t supposed to be driving it, and bashed into something in the driveway, as I got it.
When he was 16 he got his license. There was a road test, but he doesn’t recall a written one. Since he always had a New York license (except for the military ones), he didn’t have a license with a photograph on it until New York stopped issuing licenses that were photostats of your application. This was, we all think, sometime in the 1970s.
By the time he started driving, almost all of the streets in Kingston were paved, except one up at the top of Crane Street. It was called Locust Avenue, and there was no reason to go there anyway.
Mom also drove when she wasn’t supposed to, at around age 13—just around the farm at Wimmers (a very small burg near Scranton), we think. She was very anxious to get a license and hit the road.
What kind of emergency or routine repairs did you have to know how to do when you started driving?
Not much beyond changing a tire. His father did a lot of the routine maintenance and, I gather, some actual repairs. For major things you took it to a garage.
What kinds of vehicles did you drive in the military?
Everybody drove Jeeps. When doing his investigations around Corsica he usually checked out a command car [what I learned to call a staff car, I think—any automobile that wasn’t a Jeep or an ambulance] from the motor pool. The smallest truck would probably have been the 2 ½ ton (“deuce-and-a-half”), but he doesn’t think he ever had to drive any sort of truck.
What was the first car you ever owned?
Ford, of course—a 1933 two-door V8 that had been his mother’s, bought in 1941 in anticipation of rationing.[I think this is wrong and I am concatenating two stories here] After the war, when she married Minard (her second husband), she didn’t need it, so Dad took it to Maryville when he started college there. When he was there the first time, he didn’t have a car, but nobody much did. At Maryville, for a very long time and maybe still, you couldn’t have a car unless you were a commuter or a senior. When they were dating, there were many long walks in conveniently located woods.
What’s the longest trip you ever took in a car?
Scranton to San Francisco; he was the only driver [I don't think we got the reason for this, or for that matter the end of this story.]
How many cars have you and Mom owned so far? Which one was your favourite?
Around 13 or 14; any Ford
What are the biggest differences between driving now and driving when you began?
More traffic—a lot more traffic. Fewer flat tires.