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About A Week: Memphis Day

Peter Hinchliffe remembers a hot afternoon in Memphis, Tennessee.

Sunday afternoon in Memphis, Tennessee, and we’re stuck in the middle of the Mississippi bridge.

There have been two bad accidents up ahead. We’re here for a while.

A big river, the Mississippi, and this is a very big bridge. There must be at least a hundred nose-to-tail cars and trucks on it though. Is that rust on one of those steel beams…?

I’m driving a Volkswagen Beetle with a U-Haul trailer containing all our worldly goods hitched to the back of it. Joyce is right behind me in an American Ford. We set out from Texas yesterday - our first wedding anniversary - on an 800-mile drive to a new life in Indianapolis.

And now we’re stuck on a hot afternoon, with time galore for imaginations to play their worst tricks.

After an hour, when the traffic does begin to move, it’s a relief to get off the bridge. But 30 miles further on we are plunged into another drama. Joyce comes hurtling past me on a rural road, sounding the Ford’s horn. She brakes hard, skids, then plunges into a deep ditch.

She is unhurt, the car undented. She has seen smoke pouring from the trailer’s off-side tyre and thinks it would blow out and cause me to crash.

A chap driving a pick-up stops, magically produces a length of chain and hauls the Ford back onto the road. As he drives away we notice that the trailer tyre is on fire. Black smoke curls up the side of the fibreglass U-Haul.

I sprint across a field to a ramshackle wooden house. A large woman is sitting on the veranda.

“An axe?’’ I bellow. “Have you an axe?’’

“Huh?’’ says she, not understanding my English accent.

I grab a hoe which is hanging in a tree and sprint away with it. “Hey,’’ yells the woman in a fury “that’s my best cotton hoe!’’

I hack the tyre from the wheel, return the hoe to its enraged owner, then we drive on, buy a new tyre and book into a motel.

Next morning we continue northwards. Some 20 miles on we come to a small town where the road divides. A sign to the left points to Nashville. So does the one to the right.

I go left. Joyce, who is some distance behind me, goes to the right.

She goes 30 miles up the road then stops at a State Police post. I return to the motel where we stayed overnight. When there’s no Joyce I phone the police, and they tell me where she is.

Joyce waits for more than an hour in the Police post. Patrolmen wearing big Stetsons come in from time to time, each of them asking “Can I help you ma’am?’’

“I’ve lost my husband,’’ says Joyce. “Sorry to hear that,’’ they say, looking solemn.

Settling into new jobs in Indiana was a doddle after our Tennessee traumas.

A few days ago the mailman brought us a letter from Joyce’s sister in Texas. “I was sorting through some old papers and I thought you might like to see these,’’ she wrote.

There were copies of letters sent by Joyce and me to her mother, dated June 3, 1964. Eyewitness accounts of our Sunday afternoon-Monday morning adventures of long ago.


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