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Driver's Seat

Driver's Seat

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Driver's Seat

183 pagine
3 ore
Oct 21, 2020


Nineteen-year-old Lou Ward drove out of her southern New Mexico hometown headed north so fast, she didn't even look in the rearview mirror. With her two small children and a passion for fast cars, she was on her way to a large life as a newspaper owner and editor in the Jemez Mountains, Montana and Ireland.


Her newspapers are legendary, as is her unique style of writing, straight from the hip. When a high speed head-on collision in Ireland destroys her happiness and her ability to drive, Lou is forced to return to the hometown she never wanted to see again so she could heal in dry, warm weather. Met by many a tragedy on what she thought was the Road To Hell, life in Carlsbad brought her an unexpected peace she never intended to find.

Oct 21, 2020

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Driver's Seat - Lou Ward

Driver’s Seat

Lou Ward

© Copyright Lou Ward 2020

Black Rose Writing | Texas

© 2020 by Lou Ward

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publishers, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review to be printed in a newspaper, magazine or journal.

The final approval for this literary material is granted by the author.

First digital version

All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Print ISBN: 978-1-68433-560-2


Print edition produced in the United States of America

Thank you so much for reading one of our Biography / Memoirs.

If you enjoyed our book, please check out our recommendation 

for your next great read!

Z.O.S. by Kay Merkel Boruff

…dazzling in its specificity and intensity.

–C.W. Smith, author of Understanding Women

In loving memory of my parents,

Sonny and Jody Ward and my brother Les Ward

Dedicated to my sister Becky Miller, my brother Fred Ward and

My children - Les, Jesse, Kate and Cára

This book is dedicated to my loved ones who I’m connected to in my soul so deeply that we can read each other’s minds and feel each other’s pain. We’ve been through hell together but always found comfort with each other in the cars we loved, despite the other people we loved who never understood that it wasn’t about getting there first or fastest; it was always about the drive.

Table of Contents

Title Page


Recommended Reading











driver’s seat: verb - act from a position of power or control;

noun - the seat from which a vehicle is operated;

the position of power or control;

Pick up your feet

Got to move to the trick of the beat

There is no lead

Just take your place in the Driver’s Seat

- Sniff ‘N’ The Tears

Sonny glanced briefly in his rear-view mirror, rising up on the driver’s seat to get an angled view into the back of the car. She asleep yet?

Jody turned and looked at the child laying on the backseat, her short blonde hair messy, her little hands and feet dirty from a day at play. Her eyes were closed. I can’t tell, she said. Keep driving, just in case.

He smiled to himself and winked at his wife, then put his hand on the white Hurst gearshift knob and dropped the transmission down into third. The deep rumble of the black ‘57 Chevy interrupted the still evening of the sleepy desert as he turned onto the Old Cavern Highway and wound up the engine. Warm air rushed in his window, causing the cigarette in his hand to glow orange in the twilight, illuminating his dark skin beneath shocks of jet black hair. As he stepped on the clutch pedal, he felt Jody’s hand light on top of his hand that gripped the stick. He relaxed it and let her pull the shifter into fourth. The 327 opened up.

The child sighed and curled up tighter into herself on the seat, comfortable in the warm air blowing back on her from the driver’s window, faintly tinged with the familiar smell of his Marlboro smoke. Beneath her the glasspacks drummed a beautiful sound that soothed her busy child mind. Content and safe, she let the music of the motor take her under its sweet spell, and sleep came at last.

Be careful how you touch her or she’ll awaken

And sleep’s the only freedom that she knows

For when you walk into her eyes, you won’t believe

The way she’s always paying for a debt she never owes

And a silent wind still blows that only she can hear

And so she goes

Let her cry, for she’s a lady

Let her dream, for she’s a child

Let the rain fall down upon her

She’s a free and gentle flower, growing wild


I’ve known since I was a child that I would write this book. I just didn’t know it would be about me. I wanted to write about my wild-hearted parents and how their love of fast cars had been such a big influence on my hometown that’s still absolutely obsessed with hot rods, lowriders, badass trucks, classics and more muscle cars per capita than most any town in America. But somewhere between the time I was a dirty little tomboy hanging out in Daddy’s garage and the time I was getting my affairs in order to die, I decided it wasn’t about the cars. It’s about the route you choose and the side roads that distract you from your destination, about long detours you think you’ll never survive, crashes that leave you spiritually or financially bankrupt, blowouts with addictions and head-on collisions with heavy-fisted, controlling men that suck the life right out of you. Most of all, it’s about what it costs to take your place in the driver’s seat.

I remember the first time I sought counseling after moving to County Clare, Ireland. I had been there only a year and the dreary Irish weather was depressing the shit out of me, the cultural differences were frustrating me to tears and the loss of my identity as an independent American woman was devastating once I learned that most of the locals saw me as yet another Yank. The only therapist in the phone book who advertised as dealing with depression - there was still a stigma about depression being a disgraceful weakness in Ireland back then - was a doctor in Limerick so I made an appointment with him. The first session was an introduction to my past during which I told him about my life. After I summed it up for him, he didn’t talk for a minute, just sat there blinking. When he did speak, he asked, How’ve ya not killed yerself, lass?

.     .     .     .     .

Daddy killed himself on April 4th, 1986. With one bullet he robbed me of my hero, my stable foundation stone and the chance to ever know if he thought I turned out okay. He may have called me his little blonde-haired blue-eyed angel but that’s a far cry from telling me he thought I was a good person, and I craved his approval. For all I knew, because he had told me on a regular basis all my young life, I was just like my mother who never listened to a word he said and why couldn’t I just do what he told me to do as long as he was here, because he wasn’t gonna live forever, and couldn’t I just be good while he was still alive, was that too much to ask for a man who worked his ass off to feed and clothe me?

Daddy had heart disease, had already undergone two open-heart surgeries. I knew he wouldn’t live forever. We heard it so often that it almost became a normal bit of conversation between us. When Daddy dies, this. When Daddy dies, that. And the deep dark one that only I ever had the stupidity to say out loud, When Daddy dies, I get the Corvette.

That fucking Corvette. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I always knew he’d kill himself, but I figured he’d take that damn car with him, drive it off a cliff or hit an 18-wheeler head-on or something. But no, it stayed after him to torture those of us Wards who were still alive. It’s a ’56 convertible, fast as lightning. My nephew Hank owns it now, thanks be to God. It’s sitting in his big garage, all covered with soft cloth tarps to protect the paint. He’s an awesome mechanic and treats it like the little sister I always thought it to be. He’s the only one of us who deserves it.

The funeral was massive, standing room only, for such a well-liked man in town. He may have run a tight ship on his wife and kids, but everybody else thought he was faultless. He fixed their cars for free, doted over the children who came with their dads to hang out in his garage, and he was overly sympathetic toward handicapped people after losing his own younger brother to Down Syndrome. Sonny Ward was a nice man and everyone liked him. Hero to many and a local legend, his love of hot rods led him to fame and glory, but it never went to his head or made him arrogant. He still made time for the poor folk who asked him to fix their cars, despite spending ten hours a day working in the potash mines to afford his racing habit. He wasn’t racist toward Hispanics or blacks, something unusual in my family where I seem to be the only other one who doesn’t judge people on their skin color. So it was no wonder the funeral was huge. The line of cars in the procession behind the hearse, as it drove from the funeral home to the cemetery, was like an awesome parade of hot rods, muscle cars and classics. He wouldn’t have had it any other way. Hot rods were his real love in life. That’s why I crossed his coffin with two checkered flags before they lowered it into the ground. His race was over and he had finally won an end to his suffering.

Then there was this feast in our family home, people coming and going with food and condolences for hours, many tears and kind words about Daddy, dirty looks at Mom for having abandoned poor Sonny. My brother Les wanted a drink badly and my oldest brother Fred wanted to get stoned. My sister Becky just wanted to get the hell out of there before the shit hit the fan. She didn’t make it.

Once the last of the sympathizers were gone, Mom called the four of us into the living room for a talk. I just want you kids to know that your daddy loved y’all, she said, and I was gone. Gone to that place in my mind where I’d go when things in the real world were too much to handle. It was usually to a forest of tall pine trees surrounding an ancient castle with stone walls rising into a big blue sky.

I came back from my otherworld just as the rest of them were shouting and crying. The Corvette was Becky’s, sold to her by Daddy with the title already in her name. Unbeknownst to me, Daddy had also promised it to each of them for all their lives and they loved it as passionately as I did. Fred and Les got into a heated argument, Mom started crying and Becky escaped. If castles have cornerstones, would they crumble as hard as we did when our cornerstone was yanked out of our foundation?

The house was sold and Daddy’s half of the price divided equally amongst us kids, Becky refusing her share. I used part of my share to take my husband and kids to the NHRA (National Hot Rod Assoc.) Winternationals drag races in Phoenix. It didn’t feel right to spend Daddy’s money on anything that didn’t involve drag racing.

I don’t know what became of his belongings, his enormous collection of tools and machinery, his many guns. The only thing I asked for was his albums, a hundred or so records he had played on his stereo in the den.

Sit down there, Blondie, and I’ll play you a song, he would say. Now, listen to the words and see if you can hear the story. That was the best quality time I ever had with him and I still treasure the songs he played for me. My favorites were a funny bunch of songs by The Irish Rovers. I was only five or six years old but I knew the words to every song on their entire album. Still do. As a matter of fact, I can honestly say those songs are what drove me to visit Ireland four decades later.

There was a lot of country music played, some I loved, some I hated, but most I still remember the lyrics to. I couldn’t stand Wanda Jackson or Kitty Wells but he’d make me listen to them anyhow, hoping they’d grow on me. They never did. But, man, I absolutely loved Marty Robbins and Johnny Horton. I still listen to them, as do my children. That’s Papa music.

Sitting on the floor in the den next to the stereo wasn’t the best place for absorbing Daddy’s love of music though. The very best place was in the backseat of his cars. And believe me when I say we spent a lot of time in the car. It’s a Ward thing, this passion for driving, and we all have it ingrained so deeply in our souls that we’ll never change. My parents took us for rides in the car to calm us down or put us to sleep, just as we did with our children and they now do with our grandchildren. There’s no anger so big, no heartache so painful nor moment of confusion so pervasive that it can’t be cured with a good long drive in the car. I’m going for a drive was as common in our house as I’m going to the bathroom in other homes.

Daddy kept his car ashtrays full of nickels. Anytime a song came on the radio that he liked, he’d hold up one of those nickels, a sign for us to guess the name of the song quickly. If we could also tell him who sang it, we’d get another nickel. I played this game with my children for quarters, adding the question of the year the song released. My children and I are walking encyclopedias of music trivia.

I got my driver’s license on my fifteenth birthday, but I had already been driving other people’s cars for years. I was Sonny Ward’s daughter, anyone would let me drive their car, as if I was born with the ability to drive. Mike O’Hearn let me drive his souped up orange SS Camaro when I was only eleven. He wanted to talk to my sister and I was in the way. She didn’t know or she would’ve freaked out. Mike was so nice, but he had come home from Vietnam with some problems that couldn’t be cured. Shell shocked is what they called it back then, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is what they call it now. He came to our high school one day with a sniper rifle and climbed up into the bell tower, but he only killed himself in the end, God have mercy on him.

Pat Martin used to let me drive his old pickup truck whenever I wanted. He was in the Black Velvet band with my thirteen-year-old boyfriend Mike Tottenhoff, Kenny Kober, one of the Denton boys and someone else I think, but can’t remember who. It was Pat who taught me how to drive a stick shift. He showed me how the pedals worked a few times then let me behind the wheel. We were doing fine on the quiet road along the Pecos River and in the big parking lot at the beach so he said I was ready for cruising the main drag. I drove flawlessly from the beach to the intersection of Riverside Drive and Canal Street when I caught a red light on an uphill slope. I was okay, clutch to the floor with my left foot and my right foot firmly on the brake. The light turned green. Whenever I would take my foot off the brake to press the gas pedal, the truck would roll backwards down the hill, so I’d panic and let my foot off the clutch, the truck would lurch forward and die. Did this three times, was nearly in tears, cramps in my feet and a death-grip on the steering wheel. Pat was laughing his ass off. Then lights were shining through the back window

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