December 23, 1959 … My dad received word that his dad (my Granddaddy – photo I found on the internet) had recently suffered a heart attack and was in intensive care in a hospital in Birmingham, Alabama. At the time I was 8 years old, my older sister was 10 and my younger brother was 7. Us kids did not know Granddaddy that well other than to know that he worked as a long-haul trucker driving trucks all over the country and was on the road most of the time. Since we lived in Chicago and he and my grandmother – as well as the rest of the Nix Clan – lived in Alabama, there was no way we could know him as well as our cousins did. My dad did inform us that because of his job and lifestyle (back then there were no requirements on the number of hours a trucker could drive before taking a break) he was not in the best of health for the past several years of his life.
I will never forget this Christmas of 1959 and as far as I know it was my brothers favorite Christmas memory – or at least one of them since he has had so many in his life. Eddie, my brother, has always been quite sharp – and while I accuse him of having short-term memory problems (he tends to forget things about his investments that I have to keep repeating) his long-term memory is spot on. In fact, if I get any of this story wrong, I am sure he will correct me in notes found at the end of this article. He loves to correct his big brother. He can’t whoop me … so he spends time correcting me (which makes me sometimes want to whoop him)!
In December 1959 we had been in Chicago for about 3 years. Dad was working full time in a factory job and could not afford much of an automobile. In fact, our first year in Chicago I remember he would either walk to work and take the bus home or take the bus to work and walk home (depending on whether it was Daylight Savings time or not and when he had the most daylight to walk through some of the not so nice neighborhoods). At the time of this event, however, he had scraped up a few dollars and purchased a beat up old 1949 Ford Sedan (one similar is pictured below):
Now this was not our actual car … I pulled this picture from the internet also … but the color and condition look’s a lot like what he was able to afford. The car was not worthy to take you one mile, let alone the 632 miles from Chicago to Birmingham by way of U.S. Hwy 41 – since the U.S. Interstate Highways were not quite built to completion back then.
But in any event, he packed up his wife and children (with a lot of blankets since the old car had a terrible heater) and off we went to see granddaddy since this may be the last time, we would get a chance to see him. And it was our last chance to see him. My granddaddy who was born on October 14, 1905 died on January 27, 1960 at 54 years of age. It’s ironic that Eddie, my brother was born on the same day as my granddaddy – no not the same year (see the tombstone below – again from the internet):
Perhaps being born on the same day makes this one of my brothers most fond memories … I have no idea.
Personally, I remember the trip down there more than I remember the Christmas celebration after we got there. I also remember going to visit my granddaddy and mom having to get special permission from the hospital to let us go into his room for a grand total of 10 minutes while a nurse watched us.
The trip down there was terrible. It was cold and damp and all the blankets in the world, let-alone the ones mom and dad packed in the car would not keep us warm. The road was terrible and bumpy in that old car. I was on the left side of the passenger seat in the back, directly behind my dad who was driving, and my sister was on the right-hand side directly behind my mom who was supposed to be navigating. Eddie would go from the floor board (the only warm spot in the car) to the deck behind the back seat and under the back window. No child restraints back then!
The trip of 632 miles or so took about 18 hours. If you mapped it out on Google maps today it would tell you about 10 hours and 19 minutes … but that is averaging a speed of about 62 miles per hour. We were doing good if our Dad would average a speed of 35 miles per hour in that old car considering he always drove 5 to 10 miles per hour below the posted speed limit and consistently got lost (especially in Nashville which he referred to as “Circle City” up to the day he died).
Back in those days there were single picnic tables along side of the road about every 20-30 miles. When it was time to eat dad would pull over to the side of the road at one of those tables and mom would make us boloney or peanut butter and banana sandwiches. Of course, Dad would always have to say “Grace” and depending on his feelings at the time that could take from 5 to 10 minutes in the freezing cold or pouring down rain because he seemed to want to bless the food, all the relatives and friends and anyone who had anything to do with supplying the food (from the farmers who raised the beef and pork to the manufacturer of the peanut butter). Looking back on it … I guess that was a pretty smart move because out of all of our trips back and forth from Chicago to Alabama over the 24 years or so mom and dad (and us) were in Chicago, we never had and accident or even came close to one. So, I guess the Good Lord was looking out for us, not because of me but rather because of my dad’s strong faith in Him.
Well, we finally arrived at the hospital sometime on the 24th of December – Christmas Eve. If memory serves me correct, we spent an hour or so at the hospital. For us Nix kids, all but ten minutes of that time was spent in the waiting room where my older sister (age 10 at the time) was supposed to make sure Eddie and I stayed out of trouble … yea right … that didn’t quite happen!
Later that day we went to one of our relative’s houses. I cannot remember if it was my grandmothers house (wife of my granddaddy) or one of my uncles’ houses. My grandmother is pictured (also from the internet).
I do know this: The Nix Clan has always been an impatient bunch at Christmas which generally led to most gifts being opened on Christmas Eve rather than Christmas Morning.
So, here we were at the house and again it appeared as if the Northern Nix Kids (those damned Yankee Cousins, would be without any gifts because we’re not even supposed to be there). But once again, my Uncle Buddy – who I introduced in an earlier post – Christmas – My First Memory – Came to the rescue. He went out on a hunt for a gift he thought we would enjoy (and we did) but the only place he could find open late at night was a Texaco Gasoline Service Station. Yes, back then gasoline stations sold gasoline, oil and automobile service … not bread, milk and other convenience needs. However, this one did have a few advertisement toys for kids.
He ended up getting my sister a Texaco Teddy Bear and my brother and I each got a Texaco Tanker Truck.
Eddie saw this and jumped up and down for joy yelling, “I got a Texaco Tank Car … I got a Texaco Tank Car.”
Now the picture you see above is not from the internet … that is actually my brother’s toy truck that he was given 59 years ago. My Uncle Buddy (actually Robert) is still alive and is 80 years old this year. This means at the time of this gift to my brother and I he was only 21 years of age … not much more than a kid himself … which is why he probably understood the kinds of gifts two young boys and a young girl would appreciate.
Just a day or two later we had to return to Chicago along with our one gift each. On the way back, my brother and I made a pact that we would never get rid of these trucks. Well needless to say – mine has been long gone. I allowed my oldest son, David, to play with mine when he was only a couple of years old (he is now 42) so I probably have been without my truck for 38 to 39 years now. He totally destroyed it by ramming it into brick walls in our Texas Home.
Eddie, on the other hand still has his (pictured above) and will likely “Will” it to his son, Josh, when he (Eddie) is no longer on this earth. However, and I am sure he does not know this … this truck now sells for between $51 and $472 on Ebay.com today. I have no idea what Uncle Buddy paid for them … but it couldn’t have been much more than a couple of dollars back then.
However, since I do notice that a set of wheels is missing on the one my brother has … he would likely not get this much today, but who knows what can happen when his son is his age.
It does appear from the recent photo my brother sent to me that he does use this truck as part of his Christmas Decorations. This is how I know the Christmas of 1959 was one of his favorites.
For now, I will close this article by wishing you and your families a Very Merry Christmas and urge you to journal some of your favorite Christmas stories to leave behind when you are gone so that future generations can have a better understanding of family Christmases of the past. Generally, December is one of the best months to do this. Please feel free to comment below.
Jerry Nix, FreeWaveMaker, LLC