Riding in the backseat was the norm as a kid, wasn’t it? The only time I got to ride up front was when Mommy alone was driving. If Daddy was there, he drove and Mommy rode shotgun. Heck, in those days we rarely, if ever, wore seatbelts, and half the time we just rolled around in the back of the station wagon. I don’t remember ever questioning it or minding, and I loved listening in from the backseat.
As a youth from the backseat, the talk was so often angry and critical. So-and-so is too lazy to kill, and if milk prices don’t come up, it’s gonna be the end of us all. It took a few decades, but my father’s prophecy indeed rang true. I wonder at who will be farming at all when my kids are the age I am now.
We almost never got farther than Bluefield or Wytheville, but Daddy sure loved to eat out. We never went anywhere that had a waitress, which is still the standard in my own mind of whether it’s a nice place or not. If you have to carry your own food and clear your own table, that’s all right but if you’re really uptown, well they bring your plate to you, don’t they? A trip there was once a year when Dad’s sister “Kitty” June came in, and less often, his sister Joyce. We pulled out all the stops and sought out the same place every time: Shoeney’s in Princeton.
We almost never went anywhere but McDonald’s, Dad’s favorite as some of you know. Sometimes he did like to mix it up and go to Dairy Queen on Cumberland Road, somehow thinking that the word dairy in the name was a help to our industry. I was so shy and backward, when we did go to the sit-down place, I was afraid to order my own food. I remember Mom ordering me spaghetti, which she never fixed, except for Chef Boyardee from a can, and the “real” spaghetti they served was not anything I enjoyed at the time. I didn’t mind. The whole thing was still a treat, and the talk from the front seat had me enthralled.
I learned, from listening, who was married to whom, and who was not to be trusted, even hired to put up hay. I remember my father spelling out names of folks to whomever he was speaking, lest the little pitcher with big ears in the backseat might hear and repeat something. He didn’t realize that I had learned to read at a young age, and I knew exactly who he was talking about. I never let on, though, because I wanted to be in on some great secret.
Often the talk was of how things used to be. He spoke of how the kids today are lazy and no count and he thinks this country is coming to a bad end. Always negative, always certain the worst was imminent.
I don’t remember a whole lot of specifics from the backseat. I mostly just took away a notion of how things should be and an anger that they are not so. I took away from those overheard talks, an idea of what a real man should be, and a woman, too. A good man was mostly one who worked hard, and a good woman worked like a man. There were few remembrances shared, that I recall, of laughing or funny stories, so much. It was mostly serious.
Daddy always loved music, and he didn’t like to share the radio. I have to admit, even at the time, I enjoyed some of it from the backseat. His favorite was Patsy Cline, and I still know her greatest hits from his tapes he played.
I learned a lot from the backseat, and those conversations largely shaped my worldview and opinion. When I question why I am passionate about the things I am, or why I respect the things I do, the answer is often in the backseat.
The backseat view grew outside those windows that didn’t lower all the way. I found myself adopting the opinions of the front seat, and find it hard still to overcome them. I have to then consider my own children’s backseat. What thoughts am I imparting to them? How am I shaping their considerations? I hope’s it good.
It’s interesting how the conversation changed over the years. My father’s harsh, critical stance did soften in the end, and the anger and stress ebbed. Even as the worst was realized, in the end of life and the end of the farm, fury gave way to resignation. The conversations were more about the old days, though there was lamentation of their loss. It’s hard to move forward without glancing back….to the backseat.
A teacher and mother, Meagan Morehead Bradshaw lives on a farm in Bland County; contact her at email@example.com.