“Don’t you love your brother?” — Groucho Marx

November 15, 2009

billy carter


Dan and I were talking the other day about a time when you could look under the hood of your car and see the macadam of the street or driveway. That was when cars were mechanical devices, not automatons with minds of their own.

Dan said his dad told him that it was possible with some vehicles to stand in the engine compartment, with your feet on the ground, to pull the plugs or change the air filter. The kid who works in Dan’s garage looked incredulous, so I backed up Dan’s dad, even though I had never seen anyone do that.

I did see a guy named Sonny mount an engine as though it were a race horse so he could clean the carburetor. That happened at Frank DeMore’s garage, where I used to hang out with a lot of guys who probably could have been doing something more productive if their wives or mothers only knew where to find them. The era before cell phones had its advantages.

billy carter1


I was sitting in my ’56 Chevy in the parking lot of that garage when I heard — on the radio — Bill Mazeroski’s home run that beat the Yankees in the 1960 World Series. That was the only Game Seven walk-off home run in World Series history, and I heard it in the parking lot of Frank DeMore’s garage. I was afraid to go home, what with my dad’s theory that the Yankees had proprietary rights to the world championship and all, but probably I wouldn’t have gone home even if the Yankees had won.

Frank’s garage and everything in it — including Frank — was covered with a film of grease. The grease was an animate thing, and it would migrate. When my mother laundered my clothes she used to wonder how a person could get so dirty by being idle, but my mother had never been to Frank’s garage.



Frank’s garage is gone now, and I regret that whenever I drive through that town. That place accounted for the lack of purpose in the lives of uncounted men and boys, and such things are not lightly lost.

I suppose if I had amounted to something, Congress might have considered appropriating money to convert Frank’s garage into an historic site — possibly one element in a tour that would include Pappy’s hot dog restaurant, the Kozy Korner soda shop, and the Hollywood Diner. Something similar is in the legislative hopper with respect to Billy Carter’s old gas station in Plains, Ga., but, of course, Billy’s sibling was sort of a president of the United States.

Some citizens who insist on looking at the big picture question the wisdom of spending money for such a purpose when the nation is broke. Others say the gas station is an irreplaceable remnant of the early life of James Earl Carter and ought to be preserved so that future generations can understand the president better — and so that tourists will continue to visit Plains once it is no longer possible to run across the Carters themselves. Well, at least they’re honest.

jimmy and billy carter



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