Column – Mama’s Town Car rolls on, fond memories in tow
Published 5:07 pm Tuesday, December 19, 2023
By E. Henry Doggett III
My mother, Delilah J. Doggett, would have been 100 years old today, Dec. 20.
She missed hitting the century mark by 46 days, having passed away on Nov. 4.
Today is also the “birthday” of her car. At least it’s the day it was purchased for her.
Her 2004 Lincoln Town Car was acquired on Dec. 20, 2003 at POMOCO Lincoln-Mercury in Newport News via POMOCO/Gwaltney Motor Co. in Smithfield on her 80th birthday.
That car, which I drive these days, is 20 years old.
Thanks to easy driving by my mother and great maintenance provided by Dave’s Service Center, it still runs like a top!
In fact, my mother was still driving the car to church every Sunday morning until just a few days before she entered Waverly Rehabilitation & Healthcare at age 92 in 2016.
She last rode as a passenger in her car in 2019.
Her 80th birthday “gift” of this 2004 Lincoln Town Car was spawned by a serious, albeit serendipitous, sequence of events starting with a health setback for her husband, my father, Everett H. Doggett Jr.
On Thursday, Dec. 18, 2003, my parents attended a Moonlight Ruritan Club supper at Moonlight Hunt Club in Isle of Wight County. During the meal, my father experienced chest discomfort and was taken to Sentara Obici Hospital. He remained overnight for tests and observation.
My mother was driven the short distance home, where I was holed up with a high fever, hacking cough, the works …in short, the dreaded flu.
The next morning, my mother drove herself to Smithfield to keep her long-standing weekly appointment with hair stylist Doris Crocker.
On her way out the door she said that she was going to Suffolk to see Daddy after getting her hair fixed and that she would call me with a report later from the hospital. True to her word, she called me around noon.
Her voice, sweet and demure as always, was almost monotone as she first asked how I was feeling.
“Lousy,” was my response. “I’d probably need to die to feel better.”
“Well, at least you’re not here in the hospital like so many others. You know, there are right many sick people here in Obici,” she said.
“No kidding. I would’ve never guessed that the hospital is full of sick folk,” I quipped.
“Regardless, how is Daddy?”
She slowly says, “Well, he’s out of his room for more tests at the moment. If these tests don’t reveal anything new, I believe he’ll be released this afternoon. Sandra is on her way here after school lets out. Today is the last day of school before Christmas break and she’ll be getting out at lunchtime.”
I wondered why Sandra, my oldest sister, an English teacher at Isle of Wight Academy, was going to the hospital if our father was being released and coming home.
My mother then explains that Sandra will be driving my parents home.
Before I can ask why, she continues with this bombshell, “Oh, I meant to tell you, on my way to the hospital, I had a wreck.”
She said it so matter of factly that I thought she was exaggerating a minor fender bender in the parking lot, but nope, she had a head-on collision with another vehicle as she was turning off of Godwin Boulevard/Route 10 into the entrance to Sentara Obici Hospital.
She evidently failed to yield to oncoming traffic and was hit by a car with two people inside.
Thank God no one was injured, but my mother’s 1999 Lincoln Town car was totaled. The right front quadrant of the car was torn to bits. It was a miracle that she didn’t end up in the hospital herself …or worse.
She did receive a ticket for failure to yield right of way, the adjudication of which is fodder for another story, another day.
So, Sandra drives my parents from Suffolk to Surry, where I’m conducting social distancing years before that becomes a thing. It’s about 25 degrees outside and I’m boiling over with a 101-degree fever, hoarse from a hacking cough.
My father, feeling better, is now focused on one thing: getting my mother a new car. Chances of buying a new car late on a Friday afternoon are slim and none.
He knows it, but he can’t stop talking about it as he asks me question after question about new cars, where should we shop for one, yadda yadda yadda.
Finally, I said, “Look, first of all, there isn’t a brand new Lincoln on the lot at Gwaltney Motor Company (I know…it had become POMOCO, but I wasn’t calling it that). Second, it’s Friday, almost supper time. Third, we’re OK ’til Monday. You’ve got another car (a 1991 Buick Roadmaster) plus I’ve got mine here. Fourth, I’m too sick to go anywhere much less traipse around a car dealership. Lastly, you can’t drive due to macular degeneration, so let’s take this weekend to give thanks that Mama didn’t get hurt, take time to think about what new car she wants and give me time to get better.”
“I reckon that’s what we’re going to have to do,” he said.
But the next morning, the urgency and desire to get a new car cranks back up like firing up the engine of a race car.
I said, “Tell you what let’s do. I’ll call Maynard Gwaltney at Gwaltney Motor Company and see if he can start searching for a new car.”
I thought surely he isn’t going to find a car that suits my mother on a Saturday.
In less than an hour, Maynard calls back saying: “I’ve found exactly what Delilah wants. It’s a 2004 Lincoln Town car…white … loaded with everything you can imagine. It’s at POMOCO Lincoln up on Jefferson Avenue in Newport News. What do you want to do?”
I turn to my father seated in his big recliner and relay Maynard’s message. He gets excited.
I told Maynard to see if POMOCO would hold the car until Monday morning, to which he said, “No problem.”
“Great!, I said. “Tell them we’ll be there to look at it first thing Monday morning.”
Problem solved, I thought, but I knew that my father was like a dog with an old rag. He looked askance and said Monday is OK. But within 15 minutes, he kept after me.
“Let’s go today.”
“There ain’t no guarantee that they won’t sell that car before we get there Monday.”
“Don’t you think we’d better go today?! She ain’t gonna say it, but your Mama wants to go get that car today.”
And then he added: “You ain’t that sick, are you?! All you got to do is drive us there. You ain’t even got to go inside the dealership. We’ll look at the car and if your Mama likes it, we’ll buy it and you can drive on back to the house and we’ll be back there shortly.”
The final declaration was one I had heard several times over the years: “Before the sun sets this evening, Delilah Doggett will be drivin’ a brand new Lincoln Continental automobile.”
I gave up.
“Get dressed, I said. “Let’s go. I feel like I’ve been in a wreck myself, but let’s ride!”
We go to POMOCO, we look at the car and my folks agree it’s just what they’re looking for as Maynard predicted. The negotiations went a little quicker than usual, but a good deal was cut.
It’s already well after 1 p.m. and we had not eaten dinner (that’s lunch to city folk) yet. The sales rep says it’ll take a couple of hours to “prep the car and do the paperwork”.
Miserable as I was, I hadn’t lost my appetite, so we drove to Danny’s Deli for a soup and sandwich meal that really did make me feel a little better.
Debbie Vaccarelli of Battery Park and her staff at Danny’s know how to make great comfort food!
When we get back to POMOCO, it’s breezy and about 25 degrees outside. The new Lincoln is sitting out front of the dealership all clean and shiny. The sales rep greets us inside and introduces us to another fellow who is assigned to show us the car and describe all the “bells and whistles”.
This man is right out of “The Godfather.” He looks like one of the Corleone family button men and has the accent to match.
I immediately liked the guy, but he was a bit too thorough describing the interior features of the car. In other words, he was long-winded.
With my mother, Delilah, aka “Mizziz Dorgett” as this fellow pronounces her name, behind the wheel, he proceeds to show her the “fantastic features of this fine automobile.”
My father and I sit on the back seat to hear his presentation, which goes on interminably.
He starts with the retractable “moonroof” which I call a sunroof but potato potahto, I reckon. Next was the in-dash GPS, which my mother would never need or use. Then he starts to show her how to operate the air-conditioner.
The air conditioner?! It’s 25 degrees outside and not much warmer inside the car.
My father, who has just been put on the blood-thinning drug Coumadin, is shaking and shivering like a man possessed and I noticed his fingers were turning a nice hue of blue, to boot! And we all feel like popsicles!
I politely but sternly instructed the man to wrap it up, give me the owner’s manual and let us be on our way.
“We’ll figure all of this stuff out on our own later, thanks. Now, show her how to turn on the dadblame heat before we all freeze to death!”
So, on Dec. 20, 2003, my mother got a brand new Lincoln due to my father having a heart “spell,” which subsequently led to a traffic accident, which led to a date in court, which is a story for another time.
My parents, Everett and Delilah Doggett, were devoted to each other. They were married for 65 years before he passed away Dec. 4, 2009.
They didn’t travel much and rarely not much farther than Newport News or Norfolk, but my father wanted my mother to have a good reliable luxury car that could be serviced in Smithfield.
It was his way of showing how much he loved, respected and appreciated her.
So, sort of like the mid-1960s NBC short-lived sitcom “My Mother the Car” starring Jerry Van Dyke as an attorney whose mother is reincarnated in a 1928 Porter touring car that “talks” to him, I think of my late mother often as I drive her car.
No, my mother doesn’t “talk” to me as the car in the TV show did, but her automatic settings for the seat and rear view mirrors are still there along with a few items in the glove compartment.
In a sense, she still lives on in the memories provided by that car and the family history behind it.
Sometimes, something good comes out of a wreck.
Happy 100th birthday, Mama!
And Happy 20th “birthday” to your car.
Surry resident E. Henry Doggett III can be reached by email at email@example.com.