This true story I have written is about my own family, especially for the memory of my grandfather, that I lovingly called my "Papa" and his yellow 1967 Mustang convertible. I wrote this story "live, online" on my Prodigy Service bulletin board, on the evening of my grandmothers' special birthday party on July 2,1994. I have sent copies out to friends and acquaintances all over the country and now sharing it with you over the Internet. This true story has been published in many car club newsletters and distributed at special events around the world. I am proud to share it with you *Please Note If you use this story for re publication, please E-Mail me. I would also like to receive a copy of that publication and event information for my own personal scrapbook - Thanks!
That lake picnic to me, just seems like a whisper of a dream from my past now. I had no idea that that fateful sultry Saturday afternoon would be a day, that in my life that afterward, would forever be changed. You see, during all of the excitement and fun I was having, my Papa had purchased a raffle ticket from one of the hawkers walking around the picnic grounds. For that raffle ticket, he paid the man the sum of one dollar. Now a dollar in "those days" was a LOT of money and getting a dollar from my Papa... well that was really saying something! Papa stuck the ticket into his wallet.
Late at home that same Saturday night, I asked my parents if I could "sleep over" at Memes' and Papas' house. Although they only lived in the apartment right next to us, they had a room air conditioner, which to anyone then was a "big deal!" Of course, I loved being with my grandparents no matter the reason.
I can still hear the sound of the loud bell when the phone rang that night. It was the call that changed our lives. Papa, now on the phone was immediately asked by the mysterious caller if he had purchased a raffle ticket at the lake picnic that day, and if he was indeed a property owner at Lake Tishimingo? Answering both to the affirmative, the caller then said, "Mr. Anderson, we would like to inform you that you have won our official Grand Prize, sponsored through McMahon Ford of St Louis, and the Lake Tishimingo Property Association ...... A brand new 1967 Ford Mustang!" Your grand prize Mustang has a sticker price of $2,797.98!"
"Darlin, Darlin!" he exclaimed, "Get on the extension phone" (a heavy black steel phone with no rotary dial)" Your not going to believe this! The one raffle ticket I bought for $1.00 today..... WON that new MUSTANG!"
My whole family gathered after church the very next afternoon, still dressed up in our "Sunday best", so excited to go retrieve Papas' new car, back at the lake. Lots of pictures were taken by our family that day, with Papas' fancy black and white Polaroid camera. The local community press did a short interview of our very lucky winner! My Papa, (Ralph) was a man with many experiences. He had been a trumpet player and a Big Band Leader in the 1920's era. He was well known in his day for his music in St Louis, New Orleans, and southern Florida with his "Silver Fleet Orchestra." Ralph was a talented kid, that had to leave home at age 14 to play his music on the road, just to send money back home to his family. They like so many others, had fallen on difficult financial times from WW1, and all through the times of The Great Depression.
Papa and Meme, (Ralph and Loretta) had been in love and married for 33 years at that time. Now, my grandpa was a simple, caring pharmacist, and drug store owner who loved people, and knew things about everyone in his neighborhood. He could call every kid in his store by their first names as they came into his drugstore, and sat at his soda fountain counter after school.
The metal on the car was hot to the touch, as the grand kids wondered about all the fuss of the moment, only anticipating a ride in a car that had such a strange and alluring smell to the interior. That special odor of this new car was unforgettable as I to sniff the air in there over and over. When I was asked how I liked it, I said, "It was keen"
So many times we played out this familiar scenario: Papa would say, "Craigy, buckle up!" Soon after, we were pulling out of space 2W and off the apartment parking lot. Our neighborhood barber, "Red" would rush outside his shop and always wave at us in the car. We'd wave back, but we never missed a beat as we continued on our mornings journeys. I can still hear the honk of the horn as we whizzed by the Shell station down the block, as all the full service attendants together yelled, " Hello Ralph! " I was always proud to be a passenger in Papas' car.
It was like a dream, the way the car could pull Papa away from the regular flow of traffic, and off through side streets that provided a cool moment away from the heat. The convertible top was almost never seen in the locked down forward position. Even a light afternoon rain would be no obstacle for two such pathfinders, looking for alternative routes to familiar destinations.
The St Louis Zoo, only two miles away, was always a particularly favorite stop of ours, as the car instinctively found its regular parking spot near where the ducks swam in the lake in Forest Park. Papa would say, "Open the trunk, Craigy" handing me the keys, and a fresh new loaf of bread for the ducks magically appeared. Those were the times Papa shared his life, his dreams, and goals for me, so I'd grow up strong and happy. Those were days I shall never forget
Time equals change, and the urges of this young man soon turned from the mere satisfaction of being a passenger, to the overwhelming desire to control the vehicle. I don't recall ever having to unlock any car back in those days. I sat for hours in that number 2W parking space, turning the steering wheel and making all the "appropriate" mouth noises that only a new teenager would.
A new day approached in the spring of 1971 when the urges could no longer be held back. This fifteen year old young man insisted over and over to his grandfather that he knew he could drive the car. After weeks of begging him for permission, he handed me the keys. This youngster started the ignition with confident ease, and shifted the handle on the floor console to "D" as he had practiced so many, many times before. I held the steering wheel as tight as I could. Being totally inexperienced, I floored the gas of the high power muscle car. It started burning rubber for more than 15 feet, and was sliding sideways out of control. Panic struck and I jammed on the brakes until they locked up. The vehicle swerved abruptly, then finally halted, leaving it undamaged, and its new driver totally speechless. I never ever would ask PaPa to drive his car, ever again.....
The Mustang arrived back in St Louis abruptly after the birth of Andy, the first great-grandchild in 1979. My grandmother, exclaimed to Papa, that her future was going to be by her family, and new great grand baby, and not near the ocean! They moved back to St Louis in 1980 into the very same apartment they had left and had always occupied before. More pictures were being taken of Andy "the new cute baby" than of the old forgotten car now. It was now showing terrible signs of deep rust from the saltwater spray that Biloxi Mississippi, and Gulf of Mexico waters had been inflicting upon it
The car now in the mid 1980s only made brief appearances at a few of the local stores. The old store owners we knew so well, had given up and left. Red the barber was gone. The gas stations were now all self-serve, and new plastic telephones had push buttons instead of rotary dials. The world was changing around us but its hard to notice unless you're looking back very carefully.
Their daily walks were being taken by my happy grandparents, preferred over car rides. Papa started his Mustang for the last time in August of 1988. It had failed to pass state inspection and it was left to rust on the apartment parking lot, space number 2W. Too much trouble to deal with, to expensive to repair, and he emotionally said his were eyes to tired to drive at night anymore..
The police department soon after informed the widow to remove the unlicensed, rusted vehicle from the property. She had a drivers licence with her in her purse, but the last date of renewal was stamped 1948! She was told the 27 year old car had now become an eyesore to the community. It had become an object of abuse by new local children, who had no respect for other peoples' property, or their feelings, and had used the car as a play thing. It was just too dangerous to leave around anymore.
This worthless '67 convertible was towed to a local garage. Many "experts" looked, tapped, and laughed at the prospect of it ever starting again, not to mention the prospect of it ever becoming road worthy ... Sometimes to share a dream with others is to risk what, and who, you are; this man/child felt the ridicule that the car itself knew so well.
After many exhausting calls, a gentleman was contacted on the phone, whom my father had previously considered selling the car to, or giving it away (as junk) for used parts. This nice man, named Mark Hiatt, owned a Mustang restoration garage; Mid America Classic Mustang. A one-of-a-kind special garage, less than 30 miles from my home.
I got the car to his location. The owner Mark gave his honest judgment of plain and simple truths that were already painfully known, but I had never spoken of out loud. He talked in terms of rockers, cowling buckets, pans, and other items foreign to my terminology, but I shook my head "Yes" not to look mechanically uneducated about cars in front of him. My heart just felt sick
He was firm, direct, honest, and knew what he was talking about. The overall, bottom-line price was so steep, and Mark would not compromise, with a simple paint job, new top, and tune up, that would prolong the death, that the car once had already recently suffered. I was told that old rusted convertibles can crack right in half on the highway, because there is no roof to hold it all together under stress. The structure and frame was unfit and unsafe to ever be driven in that condition. A total restoration was my only option.
My dream for the car was still alive, but the goal seemed so unreachable. The importance of other personal financial interests loomed on the horizon like saving college money for my two sons, and then the replacement of our home, and personal items lost in the St Louis Flood of '93. (Our basement wall of our home had collapsed under the pressure of the rising waters of the Mississippi River and we lost our house and most all of our belongings.)
Many other challenges still lie ahead as well, and the money could also have easily been spent on a trip to a California convention, to meet new friends we had made on the* Prodigy Bulletin Boards. We longed to meet the stars of our favorite old television show *Dark Shadows, also from the same era of 1967. We found these new online friends from the Prodigy Dark Shadows group, ready and willing to fill the gap in our lives from the sacrifices we would have to make.
We decided not to travel across to California to the convention. These new computer friends of unknown faces and voices, came to support us in our dreams, and fill small voids from the financial sacrifices that had to be made, to fulfill this new goal, and bring my vision to fruition.
The anticipation of the moment built inside me, like Christmas morning to a six year old. The wonder of all the odd preparations necessary to plan a surprise birthday party for my grandmother "Meme" was still months away. With all the love she had shown me when I was growing up, this was my chance to do something special for her. The days seemed like years, and time changed the minutes to hours, but my heart was set on this decision now.
Again for the first time in decades, pictures were taken of the little car that could. Although not from the very beginning, when it was at its worst, but later after small progress was realized. Just like a lady, who refuses to have her picture taken first thing in the morning, until her hair is properly combed and initial adjustments are made.
After a complete disassembly was done, and 106 hours of welding accomplished, the little elves who finish the cobblers shoes as he slept; crept into the night and started working their magic into the wee hours, for a day of debut that was about to arrive. Little Cinderella was about to wear her new slippers....
The day did arrive as preparations for MeMes' birthday were planned for Saturday, July 2, 1994 at noontime. My surprise of the Mustang had not been revealed to anyone. Not a single family member knew of the secret that burned in my heart. A few faceless friends on Prodigy, and some close friends at home had to be told just a little information before I burst. Not even my two sons, Andy and Aaron ages 15 and 11 at the time, knew of the dream that was unfolding beneath their eyes. I had feared that I may not be able to afford to finish the project, or it wouldn't be possible to ever be completed on time. Mark had never done a total restoration of a car in this very short time frame of four months. He had other customers, and a business to run. But Mark was not just my mechanic now. He was my friend.
My scheduled pickup time for the car was 10:45 AM. Just an hour and fifteen minutes before MeMes' birthday party, and the unveiling of my big moment . When we arrived at Mid America Mustang that morning Mark had his garage completely blocked off. The entrance had been sealed off, so we couldn't get near to our car! This was "Marks plan!" We were not to even gaze upon the car, not even one peek, until the last bit of dust was wiped from the hood, and the last piece of lint taken from the carpet. His whole team had worked all through that final night to finish the car, just for me. My heart wanted to leap out of my chest. my heart I wanted to tear down the garage door that stood between me and that little "pony car". Four months had passed since I first walked though the front door of Mid America Mustang* I had not been back to the shop in several weeks, and at that time, the Mustang had still looked very awkward. It was unpainted, and went almost completely unnoticed by other customers who had frequented the garage for their Mustang parts and service. That was about to change forever.
At just the right moment the garage door was finally opened for Lynda and me. To this day I could not believe my eyes! Suddenly my knees became weak. I tried to walk forward toward it but I felt the same weakness in my knees I had felt on my wedding day so many years ago, shaking, wanting to go, needing to go, but unsure of how to move.....
Tears fell like rain. Words would not come. My legs still could not advance to admire its beauty. It was more beautiful than the first day that my eyes had first beheld it, and smelled that first, unmistakable leathery smell, twenty seven years before. The word "keen" had not popped into my head in years, until that moment
Mark turned the radio on at that magic moment, and with the very first sound, it clearly played these words... "You are so beautiful, to me,... Cant you see? Your everything I hoped for, your everything, I need, ...you are so beautiful, ..to me*". The words on the radio had spoken for all of us at that wonderful first moment. It was like a dream placed upon my heart to be a 10 year old and ride in it, as a 15 year old almost wreck it, as a young man to ignore it, and for the Mustang to sit there now, in front of me, in all its beauty. It was magnificent. The Mustang and I were young again and I felt reborn. This 27 year old classic car with 37,000 original miles, and I, at age 37, were rejoined in a very special moment in time.
Merely rubber and steal? No, it was so much more. My youth, innocence, ambitions, and dreams all culminated in that one moment that day. PaPa laid words upon my heart, saying to me,"Thank you Craigy, take the keys, its all yours now".
New pictures of the car were taken by the garage owner, the mechanics, and their families as well. Each one of them had come to the garage that day celebrate with us, this moment of victory, for us and them. It was a day in my life that I will never forget. and will be telling my grandchildren, and great grandchildren about years from now. I drove away from the shop, in my beautiful yellow Mustang convertible, crying, with Lynda following close behind.
Now it was noontime, and my whole family together... everyone, formed a caravan and followed me for my two block drive, to my final leg of my journey, back to my grandmothers' apartment. My boys walked up the open back stairway, rang her bell and rushed back down. She strolled down so unknowingly as my dad video taped her walking down the same apartment stairs for her to go to her birthday party. The Mustang and I were now strategically hidden in the side driveway of the apartment. At just the right time, after she got all the way down the stairs, next to its old parking spot, .... I pulled up gently into space 2W and said to her "Its your birthday, do you want a ride?"
You've never seen so many people crying at a birthday party in all your life. It was an afternoon of joy and tears and rememberence. I want you to know that your dreams are real too, and have purpose. My vision of bringing a car back to my grandmother, that had once meant so much to Papa, and was such a huge part of our family history, came true that day. Please, hold on to your dreams, as long as it takes, with everything you've got. They can and do come true.
She loves that her story had been read by 100,000 people, in over 18 countries, in the last 10 years!
Craigy & Ralph Anderson standing near space 2W in 1967
Photos of Papas 1967 Mustang
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