I grew up in the bootheel of Missouri – endless rows of rice, soybeans, cotton and corn with towns interspersed here and there. There wasn’t a whole lot to do on the weekend during our teen years. The normal Saturday night involved grabbing a bite to eat (at the Hickory Log if it was a first date, Sonic or McDonald’s if you were single or had been an item for awhile) and hitting the Dexter Twin Cinema for your choice of whatever two movies were playing. After the movie ended, you had to get creative. Some people went “parking”, some gathered on parking lots to hang out & I often ended up at Bud Shell Ford. Yep, a car dealership. Way back in the eighties you could drive through the car lots at night and check out the cars. I don’t think I missed too many weekends of seeing what Bud had on the lot. A new Thunderbird? A Mustang? A convertible Mustang? The newest, most luxurious Lincoln, with keyless entry on the door? SUVs weren’t a big thing yet but you could always buy a new Ford Aerostar if you needed room for the family. We would pull in and explore the lot like it was an amusement park. ONE of us – I’m looking at you, Michael Hurley – may have occasionally changed his wiper blades out with ones from a new car, but I’ll never tell. My dad, Norm, had a great relationship with Mr. Shell since Norm always, and I mean ALWAYS, drove a Lincoln. I knew if my dream of having my own car ever came true, I would likely drive it off of this lot. I had, by this time, lowered my 5th grade expectations of getting a Ferrari like Magnum P.I. I remember visiting the showroom with my dad when his car was getting serviced and Mr. Shell would stroll through in his Tom Landry-style hat and & ask if Dad wanted to take whatever car he was enamored with at the moment for a spin or even take it back home for the day. Mr. Shell was a smart businessman and a darn good car dealer. He knew if my dad took something home that he’d be back the next day to sign the papers. I’d love to know how many car deals Mr. Shell made in his lifetime because the number he made with my dad alone was substantial.
On one of our trips to the dealership, we pulled in and I went immediately to the used section with the sparkly blue & silver pennants, because I knew that was where any car I ever got would come from. It would be well-worn & marked way down! For a while after I turned 16, I borrowed my grandma’s or stepmother’s cars but by this time I was really itching for my own set of wheels. I couldn’t drive worth shit, but my friends had started getting cars & it was a matter of pride & freedom to a teenager. Dad had told me he would spend $1200 on my car. Back in those days, that meant a pre-owned Ford Escort with significant mileage, an AM radio & more than a few dents, so I wasn’t too excited. On this evening, I remember my laying my eyes on my dream car, right there in the used section at Bud Shell Ford, parked under those sparkly blue & silver pennants. It was a 1985 Cutlass Supreme – light blue metallic with navy leather top and shiny wire wheel covers. In my eyes, it was perfection. Perhaps not a Ferrari but sometimes a kid in Southeast Missouri has to compromise. I went straight to the sticker to see how much it was —– I knew it was more than $1200. It was $7500. Just a little over budget, but less than a Ferrari! That night, I vowed that somehow, someway, that car would be mine. In reality though, I thought that car was so beautiful that it would be gone in a couple days. However, every time I visited the lot for weeks it was there. I touched it, peered inside it, hoped against all hope that Mr. Shell would somehow lower the price to $1200. I mean, it didn’t seem to be going anywhere at $7500. I swear it seemed like that car sat there forever, just waiting for me to drive it home. Dad would laugh when I talked about it & remind me that he wasn’t spending over $1200. Then March came. The highlight of my year was always attending the Missouri State Beta Convention in St. Louis. This year was my senior year and I had applied for a scholarship to attend Missouri State University in Springfield. All the applicants were interviewed at the convention and the winner was announced before we came back home. I knew college would be a stretch for my dad and I hoped to help him out by getting a scholarship, but this one was a long shot – I wasn’t valedictorian or salutatorian. In fact, I was ranked 6th. No one gives full-ride scholarships to people ranked 6th, right? Except this time they did. I got that scholarship, which, in 1988 was worth about $25,000. It covered tuition, room and board, books and later, even a couple dinners a week at the on-campus Pizza Hut. Dad wasn’t going to have to pay a dime if I kept a 3.5 GPA. I’ve never been so excited to tell my dad anything. Because I knew it was going to lift a weight off of him and I knew that now, if by the grace of God it was still there, that car was MINE. I was sitting in the hallway of the downtown Marriott in St. Louis (now the Hilton) & I called him from the room phone that I had stretched out into the hallway. I’ll never forget the yell he let out and the pride in his voice. Then I asked. “Hey, remember that car I want at Bud Shell? Think we could go look at it?” He thought that was a fair deal and the next day we drove to Dexter and Patti, the saleswoman who later became Mr. Shell’s wife, got the keys and took us to my beautiful, blue Cutlass. I just thought we would sign some papers and leave but this is where I got introduced to the art of the deal. My dad made an offer. Mr. Shell countered. My dad made another. Mr. Shell followed suit. He seemed like such a nice man and surely he could see in my eyes that this car meant EVERYTHING to me, right? Everyone was so serious and all of these numbers were flying around and it got down to my dad offering $6925 and Mr. Shell offering $6975. My dad said he couldn’t offer more than $6925. Mr. Shell said $6950. I remember thinking that this was where I would hear “SOLD!” But my dad wouldn’t budge. Would not budge. I felt tears welling up and I remember so distinctly saying to my dad, as my voice cracked, “I’ll pay the $25.00 difference!” Dad said (& I could have seriously hurt him at this moment), “It’s the principle of the matter. I’ve made my final offer.” Don’t cry. Don’t cry. Don’t cry. (Will it help if I cry, I wonder?) I bit my lip. It was agonizing. At that moment, that car might as well have been a Ferrari that came with Tom Selleck because I wanted it so bad. And then it happened…….”Awww, hell, Patti, sell it to him!” I could have hugged Mr. Shell.
We won! I won! That moment will stay with me forever because right there in that showroom, a dream came true. I don’t know if Mr. Shell knew what he did that day, but he made me the happiest girl on earth. It was the first of a few cars I purchased from him before we left the area, but every time I’m home and I find myself at the intersection of Highway 25 and Highway 114, I get a little smile on my face thinking of all the memories I carry with me from that car dealership…..my first car, my first sports car, my first family car (Taurus wagon) and many nights spent looking at cars with my friends.
I hope you’ll forgive us, Mr. Shell for those wiper blades. It was Michael. I swear.