My Darling Jill
Today, when “The F word” has been enshrined by the United States Supreme Court and hard core pornography is but a mouse click away, Erskine Caldwell’s book, “God’s Little Acre” could be read with impunity by any school kid. But in the `40’s, the mere mention of that title would bring a blush to the cheeks of high school girls (although one might wonder how a person can be embarrassed at the thought of something of which they have no knowledge). Caldwell’s books were probably found in the more raucous big city libraries but in the small towns of Kansas only the bravest merchant would stock it openly on his shelves.
To be caught reading “God’s Little Acre” while in school meant an instant trip to the office where, at the very least, the penalty of several nights of “staying after school” would be levied. Quite likely that penalty would also be the precursor of a note being sent home to the reprobate’s parents along with the suggestion that “your son” may be treading into the territory of sexual perversion. And the “he” in the previous sentence is deliberate. If girl’s read such material they most certainly did not do it in school.
“God’s Little Acre” is but one of the many defamatory novels that were written about the alleged indolence and affinity for sexual perversions of the poor “Whites” in the Southern United States. There were several characters in the story. One was a young girl of ravenous sexual appetite who was fondly called, by her daddy, “Darling Jill”. Of her charms, one of her kin said in the book, “She was enough to make a hound dog bay.” The notion of there being a “Darling Jill” made an impression on me and when the time came, I made use of her name.
I acquired my first car, a 1937 Plymouth, two-door, sedan, in the fall of 1950. It took all the little over three hundred dollars I had saved during several weeks of hot, heavy labor on pipeline construction. Having a car was a huge status symbol in my mind because, although some did, not every senior boy had a car. And this was all mine. Being a young man of seventeen, whose sexual experience would rival that of a Cistercian monk, I was infatuated with the notion that now that I had a car, I would surely find a “Darling Jill.”
As soon as Henry Ford gave them the “Model T,” cars became an extension of a young man’s personality. Most guys gave their cars a name, a name that had some meaning to them. I christened my `37 Plymouth “Darling Jill,” but knowing that some young lady might guess its meaning it didn’t seem prudent to make that name especially public. So I had a name for my car that had meaning to me but like an Orthodox Jew guarding the sanctity of God’s name I could say her name only to my closest confidants or in private. Only my close friend “Wes,” knew her name.
There was a custom at that time of gluing small chrome initials on the car door just below the spot where our arm rested while driving with the window down. The fashion was to put the owner’s initials on the driver’s side and those of his girl friend on the right. It was sort of a tribal statement of ownership or maturity or something like that. But sadly I had no initials to put on the right side. I stewed. No initials . . . my initials on both doors? That would be an open admission of my embarrassingly unattached state. Then in a flash of brilliance it occurred to me to put the initials “G.O.K.” on the telltale door. It wasn’t terribly unusual for Caney boys to date girls from Coffeyville. Who would know, for sure that “G.O.K” stood for “God Only Knows?” It could just as well stand for “Georgette Olivia Kaufman” or any one of dozens of other girl’s names. I was following a line of reasoning that caused me problems many times later in life.
“Darling Jill,” however, was anything but a car “that would make a hound dog bay”. The 1937 Plymouth was one of the homeliest cars ever built and that was in an era when only Ford Motor Company and companies that made high-end luxury cars were giving any thought to “looks”. The two-door sedan version of the `37 Plymouth was a bona-fide ugly duckling. Compounding its ugliness, “Darling Jill” wore a coat of bilious green paint. I tried to ignore the reality but it was like having an ugly sister. She was mine: To protect, defend, and love.
Other than gluing little chrome initials on doors, there were many other things boys did to “doll up,” their car. It was considered stylish to attach a “fox tail” to the hood ornament or onto the outside rear view mirror. These weren’t actually the tail of a fox but a close approximation of one. Some guys, in a fit of machismo I suppose, would use the tail of a squirrel they’d killed. “Cat’s Eye taillights”, although illegal, also adorned many a boy’s car. “Cat’s Eyes” had a round, purple multi-faceted, lens imbedded in the center of the otherwise red glass. When the driver stepped on his brakes, the added intensity of the stop light bulb changed the color of the taillight from red to a soft purple. There were “sheepskin” steering wheel covers, and odd-sounding horns. Some guys had horns that played a short melody. “Dixie” was a favorite. The melody to “Oh I wish I was in De Land ob’ cotton”, was heard regularly around town as boys cruised.
As for my “Darling Jill”, I decorated her with a foxtail attached to her hood ornament (a chromed representation of the ship that landed the pilgrims at “Plymouth Rock” surrounded by an elliptical circle.) It whipped smartly in the wind when I got up to highway speed (60 mph). The chrome initials, of course, came first. Window awnings were also an adornment boys put on the front windows of their cars. These folded up against the door when not needed but when the glare or heat of the sun was a bother they could be folded down. I installed a pair of awnings and yearned for a spotlight or a pair of amber lensed fog lights on the front bumper. But “Darling Jill” died before I accumulated enough money to buy either of those two.
“Darling Jill” lasted through my senior year, but I had “rode her hard and put her away wet” too many times. She was a mechanical basket case by the end of that year. She did see me through my first boy-girl “affair”. The young lady, whose initials “L.F.K. never graced “Darling Jill’s” right front door, was a freshman. She was a brunette, brown-eyed beauty who demonstrated none of the proclivities of my car’s namesake. She decorated the right front seat of my car - and my life - for a few golden months then deserted me for a freshman boy who was not even old enough to have a driver’s license. “Darling Jill” and I finished out my final year in high school having adventures that were both more daring and punishing than those involving boy-girl interactions. They took their toll on her.
I left for college the following fall. “Darling Jill” was parked out back alongside Dad’s garage. Her engine would run; but only tortuously. She could move, but whatever lustrous days she might have had were history. I came home one day after being away at school for several weeks. “Darling Jill” was gone. I asked about he