March 15, 2023

Sweet Pea, love at first sight


             Remember when Linda Ronstadt belted out her hit song “Just One Look”?

Yeah, just one look.

That’s all it took for the blond-haired, blue-eyed tyke to fall in love. I’m not talking boy-girl puppy-love infatuation. Oh, no. The affection was for “I can’t wait until I’m 16, and I can drive.”

The soon-to-be-11-year-old cannot remember when he hasn’t been smitten with the pea-green 1969 Chevy step-side pickup truck. “Sweet Pea” came to the farm secondhand. It was used, but not too much. A neighbor thought we needed “her” to haul off trash and such. Fifteen hundred seemed like a fair price.

That was almost 30 years ago. We did haul some trash. But what Sweet Pea became was mostly a vintage classroom—on four recapped tires. Our children had already mastered the clutch-and-shifting drill, but a host of other kids learned to drive a straight-stick while steering Sweet Pea around our dirt roads.

When we sold the Lake Hartwell farm, I couldn’t part with Sweet Pea been saving her for something. She was winched onto a trailer and hauled to the Smithonia farm in Oglethorpe County. I have been saving her for something. I just didn’t know exactly why or for what.

And then Eric and Connell’s son, Bayard, toddled through the barn. Yeah, just one look, and Bayard spread his arms wide on Sweet Pea’s front fender. With his cheek touching the dusty paintjob, he purred, “I love you, Sweet Pea.”

“Grandpa,” he asked, “one day, can I have her?”

“Absolutely. When you are old enough to drive, Sweet Pea is yours. You and your dad will have fun fixing ‘er up.” Winking, I added, “I might even help.”

And every visit to the farm since, Bayard goes to the mule barn to check on Sweet Pea. He likes to circle the Chevy, tapping his knuckles on the metal body. He smiles with satisfaction, knowing it’s all metal. Bayard asks for help raising the heavy hood. After examining the spark plug wires and battery, he asked about when Sweet Pea is going to get a tune-up. He likes the way the metal hood sounds when it clanks shut. I have never heard him describing anything as “substantial,” I know that’s what he is thinking: “Sweet Pea is substantial.”

Standing in the front of the bumper, Bayard likes to trace the hood’s C-H-E-V-R-O-L-E-T lettering with his index finger. On the tailgate, he’ll do the same, but with the palm of his hand. An inspection visit isn’t complete until he opens the driver’s-side door and slips beneath the oversized steering wheel. With hands at 2 o’clock and 4 o’clock, he makes a few make-believe turns. Before exiting, he slaps the fabric bench seat to watch a plume of 40-year-old dust rise. As he’s cranking up the window, Bayard promises me, “I’m going to clean up Sweet Pea really good.”

On his last visit, Bayard asked, “Grandpa, do you have a screwdriver?”


“I’d like to take Sweet Pea’s tag home with me.”


“Did you know that I’ll be 16 in five years? I love this truck. And, Grandpa, I love you, too. Thank you.”

Yeah, just one look … that’s all it took.