Beneath a weathered car cover in my parents’ driveway rests a late 60's Ford Mustang. It is Bulldog red with a black top. It would make a perfect gameday vehicle in Athens, GA, or any other school that bleeds red & black.
This vehicle was restored by my Uncle, Jay Hinds. It was originally intended as a 16th birthday gift to my sister. My parents had asked Jay, a life-long gear head, to put it together. He jumped at the opportunity, as it gave him yet another excuse to spend time out in his garage. Make no mistake about it, Jay had a "man cave" before it was ever a term. He and my cousin, affectionately called Little Joe in our family, have always been gear heads and people willing to tackle the technical aspects of restoring classic cars.
Unbeknownst to my sister at the time, Uncle Jay invited me down to spend some time with him and Aunt Ann. I was a sophomore at UGA, and Jay and Ann had already been kind to me on my journey to Athens. Every football game they would pull into the Phi Kappa Psi parking lot and have sandwiches and coca-colas ready. Jay also drove into town every now and again to take me to lunch. He was a salesman, so he claimed he coordinated his Athens trip around work, but like most that spend time in the Classic City, sometimes you do not need a reason ... you just want to be there.
So in the middle of my sophomore year I drove my Honda Civic down to Barnesville, GA. Jay was never one to really mince words. When I arrived, he stepped out of the back door and immediately gave me hell for not driving an American car. Not even one minute into being there and I had already lost credibility.
He and Ann welcomed me into the house. Their home is a classic ... a beautiful older home with character a new builder could never emulate. They had slowly been updating it over the years, but the same old wood floors, the same staircase and the same fire places in each bedroom were still there from my first visit years ago. Barnesville is one of those towns where you could blink and drive through it, but their home sits on a street which could rival any Main Street. Gorgeous old homes, established trees and a nice sidewalk. Basically what you would expect out of small town living.
After throwing my bags in the room, Jay took me out to his garage ... all the while still giving me hell about that damn Honda. He and Ann were both curious about my time at Georgia as well ... grades, girls, the fraternity ... but when we stepped into the garage, I quickly realized why I was there.
The shell of this old Mustang sat in one of the bays. No doors, no seats, no trunk, no bells and whistles. Jay looked at me as I examined what was in front of us. He started chuckling in his gruff laugh and asked me, "Ever put a car together?"
Two things quickly came to mind:
1) Why in the hell was I going to help fix this car for my sister? If anyone was going to get a classic car in the family, it should be me. That nerd should bring her 14-year-old butt down here and fix it herself.
2) Wait, he was asking if I ever put model cars together, right? Cause I've done that. He couldn't seriously mean a real freakin' car.
But he did, he meant a real car. So he wandered around the garage, looking for parts and tools, and we started working on a car door. I had no idea what I was doing, but in his own way he made me realize it was not rocket science. Do not get me wrong, I would not advise trying to work on a car alone with little to no experience. Although that day and the next Uncle Jay made me feel like this was no big deal. Hey, we were putting a car door together. What could go wrong?
The big reveal came the next day when we aligned that sucker and rolled the window up for the first time. Before I touched the window handle, he said to me, "Look, that damn window has got to be tight. I can't have your mother yelling at me about rain getting in the car." I shrugged my shoulders and rolled the window up. It was a tight seal. The door, quite heavier than my little Civic door, shut firmly.
I'll be damned. I just put a car door together. It was fascinating and exhilarating at the same time. We finally wrapped up, ate some lunch and they sent me on my way back to Athens, but not before Jay got one more dig in on my Honda ... "Hey, when you want a real car come on back down here and we'll put one together."
Jay and Ann returned each fall for those Georgia Football games. The more I became involved with the Athletic Association as a student worker, the less time we were able to interact. We would catch up early in the mornings or maybe after the game. Ann would always make sure I had something to eat or drink, Jay would deconstruct the game. He loved to tease me too. The Honda was one example. Although, the best may have been when I introduced them to Meghan, my most serious girlfriend in college. After he met her, he pulled me aside and asked me how in the hell I landed a girl like that. He was right, I out kicked my coverage. He later would say the same thing to me about Courtney the weekend we married. Yet again, he was correct.
Two years ago I was able to spend some time with Jay and Ann in Barnesville. I was traveling down to Tifton for work and decided to spend a night with them. Mom and Dad had told Jay I enjoyed scotch from time to time, so when I arrived he and Ann had a bottle waiting. Uncle Jay poured two glasses and told me to "come on." He was never really one to say please, and I've never been one to argue with a man who is offering a free glass of scotch.
We sat on a small side porch, just off of his tv room, which also served as his war memorabilia room. He loved combat history. As he was sneaking a few cigarettes and the sun was settling in, he told me old family stories. We talked about Granny and Pappy, family drama, his time at UNC, how he ended up at UGA, why they moved to Barnesville and how he was proud of Little Joe for making some tough decisions in his life.
I mentioned it earlier, but Jay was gruff. However, he was also someone who loved his family. Uncle Jay passed away suddenly Wednesday evening. I could feel the pain in my mother's voice as she told me. I've yet to catch up with Little Joe or Ann, but the funeral details are coming in piece by piece.
As difficult as it can be to lose a family member, the reality is life happens. You live, you love, you learn, you grow and you move on. It is not easy, but what becomes easier is remembering times with a lost loved one. The Phi Psi tailgates, the constant teasing, the surprise lunches, the car door and the shared scotch. These are memories I will hopefully have the rest of my life.
My sister said it well earlier today ... Uncle Jay was a husband, a dad, a grandfather, a brother and an uncle. He was a good man, and I feel fortunate for the limited time we spent. Aunt Ann, Little Joe and Jim all have my thoughts and prayers.
It is difficult to lose family, but now when I return to Winston I can lift up that weathered car cover and take a look at something Uncle Jay and I worked on together. Finding peace in little things makes difficult times just a bit easier.
the lowe down
The life and times of Jay Lowe, a 30-something university employee, music lover, husband, sports enthusiast and most importantly, dad.
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