’49 Chrysler a winner for family in more ways than one

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On a crisp fall evening, my uncle, Joseph Gray, attended a bingo game held on the grounds adjacent to my hometown’s fire station.

It was a “stand up bingo” contest. Participants had to sit down when a number on their cards was called. “Dud,” as my 440-pound uncle was affectionately known by my sisters and I, was the last one standing. He was handed a set of keys to a 1949 Chrysler as his prize. Horn blaring as he drove into his driveway next door to my boyhood home, Dud woke up half the neighborhood to announce his good fortune.
Little did I guess at the tender age of 7 that the ’49 Chrysler would play an important role in our lives for many years.

Dud and my maternal grandfather, Johnny Gray, had worked together on tug boats plying the Mississippi River and the Intracoastal Waterway. They saved their money and opened Big Joe’s Grocery. As the large national supermarket chains moved into my hometown, small enterprises like Dud’s were driven out of business. The ’49 Chrysler became an important part of Dud’s strategy to survive.

Dud started a home delivery service to the young wives of Gulf of Mexico oilfield workers domiciled in my hometown, Morgan City. From preprinted lists of all products carried in his inventory, he filled orders by phone, allowing the young wives to stay at home with their toddlers. My grandfather delivered the orders in the ’49. The women paid once a month and were extended credit if their husbands were temporarily laid off.

Big Joe’s Grocery survived.

From grades one through 12, the Chrysler, driven by my grandfather, got us to the movies, religious services and anywhere else my sisters and I cared to go. Dud had a stroke at the age of 36. He survived, but was left with impaired vision, so he was unable to get a driver’s license.

When my grandfather died of a heart attack in 1964, Dud gave my mother the Chrysler, which got a rebuilt motor in 1962.

After my father and mother moved to Baton Rouge, I shared use of the Chrysler. I earned a bachelor of science degree from LSU and courted my wife, Mary Ann Fontenot, in the ’49.

That Chrysler was a car of destiny for us.

Human Condition is a column for Advocate readers about poignant or funny stories, approximately 600 words in length. Send submissions to: Human Condition, Sunday Advocate Magazine, 7290 Bluebonnet Blvd., Baton Rouge, LA 70810, or email submissions to mag@theadvocate.com. There is no payment for Human Condition.