Monday, April 18, 2011

Kudzu Ate My Grandpa's Car

My  father’s father (we called him Pappy) had a Ford Model T.  I have a picture of him in his driving cap and gaiters,  standing next to it,  grinning as if he owned the world. Several years later, tragedy struck.  Kudzu ate my grandpa’s car.
For those of you not fortunate enough to have come from Old Southern Roots, kudzu is a Vine From Hell.  It has pretty purple flowers and amusing hairy seed pods that stick to your clothes.  But don’t let that fool you. This stuff is insidious.  They say it grows as you watch. It’s been documented at over a foot per day, which is pretty darn fast for a plant. It spirals up trees, it swallows up fences,  it wraps itself around anything that will stand still.  It snakes along the levees looking for victims. And one summer, it came after Pappy’s Model T.
My grandpa was a wholesale grocer in a tiny little town called Belzoni, Mississippi. (I remember it as some houses with screened-in porches, a Piggly Wiggly, seven churches and a gas station.) This was during the Great Depression, so there wasn’t a whole lot of money floating around then.   Pappy counted himself lucky to have any job – never mind a  really good job. He worked very hard to keep that good job, too. Legend has it  that  one day, as my grandfather was making his usual rounds, something went wrong with the car.  It just kind of stopped, right there beside the levee, and refused to start again.
Of course this all happened before there were cell phones. This was before you could call AAA.  This was during a time when you had to have a dime in your pocket and a pay phone to use it in. And suffice to say there weren’t a whole lot of phone booths in a town that consisted of a few houses with screened-in porches, a Piggly-Wiggly, seven churches and a gas station.   So the car sat there for a while.  I don’t know how long, precisely, because the story changed with every telling.* In any case, by the time Pappy came back with a mechanic, the car was gone.
Now, a car is an awfully big thing to lose, and since it wasn’t running, the chances that someone would steal it were pretty slim. Never mind the fact that in a town that small, everybody knew everybody right down to their dog’s dead grandmother, and the sight of someone other than Pappy messing with his car would hit the gossip circuit pretty fast.
Pappy and the mechanic poked around, wondering if they had come looking in the wrong spot, when they saw something sticking out of a tangled pile of kudzu vines. (Here’s the part where I remind you that in those days, you started your car by turning a crank.) And right there,  sure enough, was the crank on the front of the Model T.  Those vines had crawled in, out, over and through that car until all you could see was just the little crank peeking out.
Needless to say, when the kudzu eats a whole car, that is what we call an E-Vent. Everybody had to come out of their screened-in porches to watch Pappy and the mechanic cut the Model T loose from the kudzu vines.
They say history repeats itself, and I  have proof. 
When I was little, my dad used to tell me about the time the kudzu ate my grandpa’s car. Now a trumpet vine has eaten my house.
But that’s a story for another day.
*Or it could be that my dad made the whole thing up to keep me quiet on long car rides.  But that wouldn’t be nearly as much fun, would it?


  1. Since Carrie's dad was my Uncle Garlan and her Pappy was my Pappy as well, I feel compelled to weigh in on this matter of the car eating kudzu.
    I have it on the best authority that there is such a species of kudzu in Mississippi and indeed it could have eaten a car and it's quite possible that the whole thing could have happened in a day and a night. And if you don't believe me, just drive down the Natchez Trace someday and see for yourself.

  2. Thanks, Jackie! I was going to say it bugs me that I'll never know for sure whether Dad was telling a true story or just pulling my leg, but on further thought, I think I'm happier not knowing!