Autobiography of One Old Ford


John N. Lewis


Part One

1. North to Alaska
2. University of Alaska, Fairbanks
3. Mississippi State
4. Home for Christmas--by Canoe
5. Adventures In North Mississippi
6. Getting Involved
7. Back to Alaska--and Back
8. Thanksgiving Bride
9. Married Student Days

Part Two

10. California Honeymoon
11. Icelandic Interlude
12. Return to England
13. Continental Holiday
14. Farewell to England
15. California Here I Come--Again
16. Michigan Meander

Part Three

17. Home at Last
18. Journeys Missed by Being Second
19. Texas Tour

Part Four

20. Wyoming Via North Carolina
21. Return of the Vagabonds
22. From King Tut to Kansas City

21. Return of the Vagabonds

Company policy of John's new employer required all new hires to take one week of vacation after six months, but prior to one year, of service. Since farming and land clearing activities are at a minimum during mid-winter, Christmas week seemed an appropriate time to make a trip back to Louisiana. The family attended Sunday School at Plymouth on December 22, then left at noon to go visit the home folks for Christmas. The South Carolina line is exactly 200 miles from Plymouth. The welcome station was their first rest stop. Leaving there John set the cruise control for fifty-seven miles per hour (speedometers usually read a little more than actual speed), and by nine o'clock that night they were stopping for the night at Covington, Georgia. John had planned to eat that evening at an excellent restaurant on the square in downtown Madison. Not only was the placed closed because it was Sunday, but the side trip off the Interstate caused him to reach the Bonanza in Covington five minutes after it closed for the night.

Monday morning the family cruised through Atlanta early and were soon shopping for clothes for Don and his daddy in the clothing outlets of Villa Rica. This little stop along U.S. 78 is a bargain center for double knits--men's wear in particular. Most of John's new suits since he finished school have come from Villa Rica or Breman, Georgia, but they all seem to have a common flaw: constantly shrinking waist bands.

By late Monday afternoon the highways were becoming noticeably crowded with holiday traffic, and by the time John crossed the Mississippi River on the new I-20 bridge at Vicksburg, the inevitable rain had begun to fall.

Rita's mother has her Christmas tree and gift exchange on the night of Christmas Eve, while John's mother waits until Christmas morning. Consequently, the children enjoy a double Christmas, and the families get to visit together at both homes. Of course, along with the joy of the season and the gifts is the sorrow for the family members who are missing. During Christmas week John and his mother made a trip to Ruston to see Charlotte and to visit his Aunt Bessie who, although in a nursing home, was still her own bright, interesting self. On the way back through West Monroe, they were able to see her son, John's cousin, Edward Parker, who took them out to lunch. He is one of the few family members to make the effort to visit the Lewises in North Carolina, and the children were delighted with his rare visits.

John's Uncle Terrell and his wife, Ruby, were in their new home adjoining the old home place north of Waverly; so one night all the family gathered there, and John showed slides of his work in North Carolina as well as some of the sights the family had seen in their travels. It was a special joy to visit once again in the Delhi church, to see forty-four men in one Sunday School class, and to hear Brother Clarke preach again. But the sun had not shown its face the whole week and, although Don and Alison had visited a few old friends, the constant cloudiness and intermittent rain dampened their spirits as well as everything else. By Sunday afternoon everyone was ready to start back home.

No sooner had the car pulled away from Tendal than the sky cleared enough to stop raining for a little while. As John drove under the light in Tallulah (where I smashed the Cadillac) and followed old 80 east, he looked across Brushy Bayou and saw his old friend Bill McCoy out in his yard. He detoured across the bayou to visit a few minutes; but with night approaching, he had to "whip the trail." As soon as possible, he had looped around Jackson, Mississippi, and caught the Natchez Trace Parkway toward Nashville, Tennessee.

John's intention had been to stop in Nashville and spend the night with Martha. But a late start complicated by heavy rain in north Mississippi, which led to some bum navigation that carried him miles out of the way in Tennessee, delayed his arrival in Nashville until hours past midnight. In fact, the drastic construction being done on I-65 in Nashville, with improper sign posting, caused him to pass completely through that city. As frustrating as it was to backtrack, he turned around, went back into the concrete jungle, and awoke Martha for a short, sleepy visit. To pass by without even stopping seemed unforgivable no matter what the excuse might be. When people want to visit someone there is usually a way to do it.

When the Tar Heels left Nashville, the fog was beginning to form in the valleys. Before they reached Cookeville it had shrouded the entire countryside. Only by following closely behind a big truck as it crept along I-40 could John keep on the road. When he became too sleepy to continue, he pulled over and let Don take the wheel and assigned Todd the task of keeping the new driver awake. In fitful snatches John slept while Don drove past Knoxville and into the great Smokey Mountains. The drivers switched again before daylight, and the powerful 440-cubic-inch engine loafed up the steep New Found Mountains along the Pigeon River to Asheville. As the car nosed over the summit of the Blue Ridge between Black Mountain and Old Fort, it met the sunrise painting the clouds and fog patches below a delicate pink. John pulled over to the roadside and stopped briefly so the family could drink in the dawn of a glorious new day. They had not seen the sun in a solid week. It was as if they had gone away leaving the sun in North Carolina and had returned to find it still there. The children felt home again already, notwithstanding the 350 miles remaining to Plymouth. They could snooze while Daddy took care of that insignificant detail.

Spring passes quickly for those in the farming business. Planting season, that most critical time of the year, seems to have too few days and too many acres. During the spring of 1975, Alison was thrilled (but no more so than her parents) to learn that she had been selected by her teachers to attend Governor's School during the summer in Old Salem, North Carolina. Here, each summer, top students from throughout the state meet with a specially chosen faculty in a highly motivating atmosphere for six weeks of intensive study and organized activities. Midway through the session is a three-day weekend which the students are expected to spend with their parents. Rather than bring Alison home for the weekend, her parents and Todd went to Old Salem for the program and noon meal shared by the students and their guests.

After lunch the family left on a tour of western North Carolina. That Friday afternoon they traveled narrow, twisting mountain roads (some of them not on the oil company map) until they joined the Blue Ridge Parkway near Grandfather Mountain. In mid afternoon the family hiked in the cool shade of the forest into beautiful Linville Gorge. Following the Blue Ridge south, they were in a motel in Asheville in time for Alison and Todd to enjoy the swimming pool before supper.

The first item on the agenda Saturday morning was a visit to Biltmore, the great, stone, French chateau of George Washington Vanderbilt that sits within a vast estate along the French Broad River in the southern edge of Asheville. The mansion, like many of the great homes in this country, is a repository of European art and furniture treasures. John was captivated by the huge, paneled library filled with beautifully bound rare books. He would have liked the opportunity to spend weeks in that one room perusing the mostly-unread volumes. By the time they had toured the mansion, the rose gardens, and the greenhouses and driven around the pastures of the dairy farm, the morning was nearly gone.

After an excellent noon meal on the outskirts of Asheville, John picked up the Blue Ridge Parkway again for its southern-most loop through Beach Gap. Quitting the parkway to avoid the bottleneck of Cherokee, he drove through Bryson City to Fontana Dam. At the Tennessee state line he turned back and south to locate the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest. This rare grove of virgin timber that survived the harvest of the Appalachian Mountains because of its remoteness has been dedicated to the memory of the famous soldier-poet of The World War who penned the beloved poem, Trees. As the family hiked the mountain trails among the mature giants of the forest, a late afternoon drizzle was falling. The soft music of the rain could be heard high overhead, but not a drop reached the hikers protected by the solid canopy 150 feet above their heads. One of the huge tulip trees could barely be encompassed by John, Rita, Todd, and Alison joining hands around its bole. This isolated grove of uncut wilderness probably contains the largest trees in the entire eastern United States.

One advantage of sightseeing during the summer is the extra hours of daylight which allows much more travel to be crammed into a day than is practical for the winter tourist. Although it was late in the day when they left the Joyce Kilmer grove, there was still time to drive through Robbinsville and along the scenic Nantahala River to Lauada in time for Todd and Alison to catch their evening swim before dark. The Vacationland Resort Motel where they found lodging for the night was high on a steep hillside overlooking the east end of Fontana Lake. John's survey of license plates revealed that his own was the only one from North Carolina and that a preponderance of the out-of-staters were from Florida. The Floridians had escaped their summer heat by retreating to the cool mountains of North Carolina.

After a cool and restful night with only nature's air conditioning, the family started the long trek homeward via N.C. 28, which climbed and twisted along the Little Tennessee to Franklin. Here they joined a familiar highway (U.S. 64) in an unfamiliar setting. U.S. 64 is the longest highway in the state; and the tourist who would enter the state on this route and stay with it until it hit the ocean at Nags Head would be exposed to every type of scenery imaginable in a state of tremendous variety. The drive from Franklin to Highlands could easily convince the visitor that he was in one of the far western states.

As noon approached John stopped in the pleasant, foothill city of Brevard and picked up a picnic lunch which they carried into the Pisgah National Forest so the family could enjoy an unusual local attraction while they dined. Part way up the winding mountain road where Wagon Road Gap crosses the Blue Ridge, a tumbling stream pours over a smooth, tilted rock outcropping into a waist deep pool. Sliding Rock (as this spot is so aptly named) is alive each summer day with crowds of bathers enjoying the thrill of being swept down the gentle falls and tumbled into the pool below. The Forest Service has provided a handrail along the edge of the stream to enable the dunked sliders to return to the upper level for another try. Due to the unpredictable attitude at which the participants land in the pool, there is at least as much fun for the spectators as for the bathers. When John had come upon this wilderness fun fest in 1966, it was one of the most exciting highlights of the trip for the young kids.

In 1975, as John was standing on the roadside photographing the aquatic activities, an out-of-state car carrying three persons stopped. By appearances the two ladies were the mother and grandmother of the husky boy of about fifteen years of age. He was itching to get to ride down Sliding Rock. His mother was ready with all the usual, lame parental reasons why he could not: not enough time, no swim suit handy, and maybe next time. It was a time when the boy needed a father, and John was the only one around. Knowing full well the hazard of entering uninvited into a family discussion, but also remembering Don, who was now working, he joined the lad's cause. He said, "Lady, I live in this state, and it has been nine years since I last passed this way. How old do you think this boy will be the next time you bring him here?"

Well, after a moment the mother relented, and a happy boy in short jeans ran to join the wet merry makers. The buttinski rounded up his own charges and headed on back down the mountain to U.S. 64 to get Alison back to Old Salem and the others home to Plymouth.

Only three weeks later it was time to go back to Salem College to pick up Alison at the close of Governor's School. The students had shared such close associations and become so like a big family that leaving day was like a big funeral. Young friends that would so soon forget each other felt that their parting was more than they could bear. On the way home John stopped in Elon College for dinner. Alison's sorrow had diminished sufficiently for her to clean her plate. If her heart was broken, at least her appetite was undamaged.