Friday, October 7, 2011

How to Drive a 1949 Willys Jeep

This isn’t actually about how to drive a 1949 Willys jeep. So if you’re looking for that information, let the google take you elsewhere, and good fortune to you.
This is not a Willys jeep. But these gentlemen would know how to drive one.
This morning I saw a venerable Willys jeep driving through the neighborhood, and was immediately overcome with a double blast of nostalgia.
I never paid attention to the name as a kid, but there were a fair few Willys in my hometown. It’s hard to believe that seeing one could inspire a full-fledged bout of nostalgia, but there you are. Proust had his madeleines; I have a Willys jeep. When you grow up in the rural west, you make do with what’s available.
So I was taken back in memory to where I grew up. In winter, for some reason—which, even bathed in the glowing light of nostalgia, is not the best time to visit my hometown. Oh—it was hunting season. That’s when the Willys were out and prowling.
In my mind’s eye, I see my hometown at its second most depressing time of year, during hunting season*, and simultaneously I see the spring of a certain year—graduation season is approaching, and as an alumna I’ve been asked to be one of the judges of the high school writing contest. There’s scholarship money offered to the winner. There’s an awards ceremony where the winner is named and honored. It’s kind of a big deal.
That year, the winner of the contest was a student who wrote an essay titled, “How to Drive a 1949 Willys Jeep.” I may have the date wrong.
It was an exceptional essay: clever, witty, and well-written, which is not an easy trick to pull off when you’re writing a “How-to” essay. About how to drive a jeep.
I don’t know who the writer of the essay was, but I’ve read a lot of things since then, by people who do the writing thing for a living, and that essay has stayed in the catchall drawer of my mind even as other, more commercially successful writing has faded to dust. I come across it every so often when I’m looking for something else, and I have a moment’s pleasure remembering the writer’s fine, laugh-out-loud sense of humor, his obvious affection for a cantankerous piece of machinery, and his skillful writing. I hope he’s both famous and happy, but one thing I know: he was successful. It’s been more than 20 years and I still remember that essay.
If, by some wild chance, you know him, you should tell him that his words live.

*Just to be clear, I’ve eaten too much venison to be depressed because of the hunting part—it just comes at the dying time of the year, which in my hometown is one of the grimmer seasons.

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