Column: The 1989 Chevy Pickup

The Wells Family tradition of learning to drive from their grandfather in his truck continued throughout years


Parker Nolan

The 1989 Chevy pickup is now in a new temporary home in Lucas, Texas.

The family tradition surfaced in 2001 when my soon-to-be 16-year-old cousin David was  dreaming of getting his driver’s license. The unpreparedness David felt told him he would not pass. But Thomas Grady Wells, my grandfather, had a different plan.

Every Thanksgiving, the Wells clan made their annual trek up to the small, quaint town of Antlers, Oklahoma to stay with the eldest generation of our family, my grandparents, Hanna and Pappy. Although for this year, I was not old enough to go to the bathroom on my own let alone know of the amazing tradition that was about to begin.

Pappy took it upon himself to make sure his grandson passed that test. They walked into the backyard and there it was, my grandfather’s pride and joy: his 1989 white Chevy pickup truck.

“Get in,” Pappy directed.

David looked at him with confusion. Pappy was going to let him drive his pride and joy? David couldn’t dismiss the thought of wrecking the car and never being forgiven.

“Well, are you just going to stand there or are you going to drive?” Pappy asked.

So they drove.

They drove the backroads of Antlers. They drove by the Sonic, the Dollar Tree, the old gym, the nursing home, Dead Man’s lake, the rocking bridge, and finally back into the driveway of 506 Maple Leaf Drive.

David put the car in park and looked at our grandpa, and said the best way to describe the look on Pappy’s face was proudness. That chilly, fall day is how the Wells family tradition started.

I remember that car like the back of my hand.”

Three years later, Pappy then taught Drew how to drive behind the wheel of that same truck. Seven years later, he taught Dylan how to drive and four years after that he taught my brother Grady. Through the same roads, by the same buildings, over the same bridges, in that same white Chevy, Pappy taught his grandchildren how to drive.

I remember that car like the back of my hand. In my earliest memory of the car I sit on those Mexican blanket seats in between Pappy and Dylan, driving up to the Sonic Drive-In to get a root beer float. I will play that memory in my head forever and never forget, for if I could go back to that day, I would. Leaning on Pappy, hearing his laugh, him joking about me getting behind the wheel one day.

In September of 2014, Pappy got admitted to the hospital with what we thought was pneumonia. At the time it wasn’t a big deal and we, or at least I, assumed he would be out soon. After about a month, he was transferred to Medical City in Dallas and put into the intensive care unit. This confused me because I didn’t know how bad the sickness was progressing or what it had turned into.

On Dec. 12, 2014 Pappy passed away.

A big part of my life was taken from me unlike anything else I had ever experienced.

There was a hole in my heart where Pappy should have been.”

In February of 2015, I turned 15 which meant the time had come for me to start driving. It’s a normal process. We turn 15, we get our learners permit, and then our parents teach us how to drive. This was alright with me until I realized that sitting in in the driver’s seat of a 2014 Acadia couldn’t compare to sitting in the driver’s seat of that white Chevy pickup.

I am the youngest grandchild and I feel like I didn’t get enough time with him, Pappy. All my cousins and my brother got to take part in this tradition that I did not get to experience in the way that I should have. I wished Pappy had been here to teach me how to drive. I wish he had been here to let me drive the backroads of Antlers, by the Sonic, the Dollar Tree, the old gym, the nursing home, Dead Man’s lake, the rocking bridge, and finally back into the driveway of 506 Maple Leaf Drive.

But he wasn’t.

Parker Nolan
After missing out on the family tradition, Wells finally got the chance to drive the Chevy on her own.

The truck was getting old anyways. My grandma couldn’t get it to start, the engine was failing, and I had given up completely on driving the old, white Chevy pickup. Then last Tuesday, something happened.

I pulled into my driveway and there it sat. The 1989 Chevy Pickup, repaired and almost good as new. In that moment I knew what I needed to do. I grabbed the keys and took off. Pappy’s glasses were still in the coin holder, his old gloves were under the seat along with Sonic straw wrappers. The car smelled like Pappy; a mix of his clothes, his detergent, his cologne, his everything. The smell you get when you hug him.  A feeling of nostalgia rushed over me, and I called out to Pappy hoping he was watching me.

“I wish you could have taught me how to drive but look, I’m driving.”

I could feel his presence in the seat next to me.

It was late that Tuesday and I wasn’t sure where to go, but then it hit me. I drove down Lucas road and ended up in a spot at Sonic. I pressed the red button and asked through my tears, “Can I have one root beer float please?”