You’re Never Too Old to Learn

By Joe Darby

One is never too old to learn valuable life lessons. I’m living proof of that because I recently got into a grand misadventure with my new Dodge Challenger, a misadventure that I had been wisely warned about. But the ordeal also reminded me of the value of helpful family members, who come through for you when you need them.

The contretemps with the car is doubly embarrassing because I ignored similar advice many years ago about the vulnerability of certain vehicles and suffered the consequences then, as I did recently.

Back in the early 1960s, when I was at LSU, Daddy let me borrow his sexy but low-slung Ford Thunderbird to take a date to a party on the Mississippi River levee with a bunch of my friends. “You can take the car, but don’t drive it up on the levee. It’s too low,” he warned. But when I got to the party site, the rest of the gang were driving their vehicles over the levee, so I wasn’t going to be the odd man out.

Well, you’ve probably guessed what happened. When I topped the levee, the muffler of the T-Bird was torn off. Gosh, Daddy did know some things, after all. Anyway, the party was pretty much ruined for me and the goop hit the fan when I got home. Paying for a new muffler was the final consequence of my ignoring good advice.

But had I learned a lesson from that episode? Nooooo.

So, very recently, my brother-in-law Charlie Tolle, who lives in the country north of Baton Rouge, turned 92 years old. He is quite spry for someone eight years short of 100, so the clan gathered to take him out to dinner. My wife Mary and I were to follow my niece Bonnie and her husband Chuck Boyer to Charlie’s and we would then proceed to the restaurant.

“But your car (meaning my low Challenger) can’t take that driveway, so don’t go on it,” Chuck warmed me, excellent advice if I ever heard it. But when we got to Charlie’s driveway, another vehicle was right on my tail and there was absolutely no room to pull over on a shoulder in that heavily wooded area. So I did the only thing I could think of and pulled into the dirt driveway.

I was immediately confronted with some mean looking ruts, so I thought I would get off the driveway and go around in the grass. I got into what was practically a bog and it took only seconds for my car to get stuck fast. I mean it wasn’t going anywhere. Just as the levee party 55 years earlier was ruined for me, my mood was shot during Charlie’s birthday dinner.

We had to get home to Natchitoches so the only solution I could figure out was to let the car sit for a few days and hope the ground would dry out. In the meantime, I tried to get a rental car to get us home, but I had only my debit card. The rental companies require a “major national credit card” and all of mine were back home, safely tucked away. They also don’t take cash. So Mary and I were in a pickle. I didn’t want to call a tow truck because of the possibility of my new car getting damaged.

But Mary’s daughter, Shannon Blacklock, when asked, came to our rescue, with no complaint. Shannon lives about 15 or 20 miles away from where we were staying in Jackson, La., and she picked us up and drove us home the next day. That’s what family is for, right? Shannon was Hero No. 1.

But more family help was to come. The low ground in which the car was mired never really dries out, so Chuck, my nephew Clint Tolle, and his son Dreher Tolle, used an ingenious trick to get the Challenger unstuck. They jacked up the rear end, put boards under the rear tires and then lowered the vehicle so it could be driven out. Chuck, Clint, Dreher. Heroes Nos. 2, 3 and 4.

There was one more hero to come. Instead of making me and Mary drive all the way to Jackson to get the car, Bonnie and Chuck volunteered to meet us in Alexandria, to turn over my long-lost car to me. Then Bonnie and Chuck drove home in their own vehicle and I drove the Challenger home, with Mary following in her Dodge Nitro.

Bonnie. Hero No. 5. I literally don’t know what I would have done without the help of these loving family members. Thank the Lord for them. And, believe me, the next time Chuck — or anyone else — warns me to be careful with my car, I will follow their advice. To the letter!