“The future is something which everyone reaches at the rate of 60 minutes an hour, whatever he does, whoever he is.”
— C.S. Lewis
Grady always attributed slow traffic to Hop Hanna.
Hop Hanna was the unseen guy at the front of the line of cars moving slowly along the two-lane.
Grady would chuckle, and we knew it was just an old story line my father-in-law enjoyed unfurling every once in awhile. It made being stuck in a traffic snarl on Old Route 66 between Vinita and Claremore, Okla., more bearable.
We weren’t in a hurry anyway. Uncle Mooring and Aunt Beulah would be there when we arrived. They seldom left the house, their stories would be the same and Beulah’s lemon squares would be just as good if we arrived a few minutes late.
Hop Hanna, Grady explained, was a regular fixture on the narrow red dirt roads around Sageeyah, Oklahoma. Comfortable on the back of a horse, set in his ways by age and experience, he knew exactly how long it should take him to get to town and back. The little man in the battered hat, slouched low in the seat with a death grip on the steering wheel, probably reckoned it served little purpose to push his battered Ford truck faster than a horse would walk.
Everyone knew him, even the young people in their newer sedans, hurrying to wherever they needed to be, knew there was no pushing Hop Hanna. He had one speed, and he was already at it.
In Grady’s story it was 1929 and he was a young man. He was in his last year of high school, the middle son in a family of five boys scratching out a living on a small ranch north of Claremore.
As my wife would tell it, “My Dad and his brothers were full of spit and vinegar, fighting for the keys to the car, working to save enough money for their next trip to town.”
“They were in a hurry to get somewhere.”
Somehow, invariably, their common experience was that whatever their route, their travels often slowed to a crawl in the red dirt cloud behind Hop Hanna. It became part of the family’s lexicon: “Get cleaned up for dinner; you boys are slower than Hop Hanna,” their mother would tease.
If you came upon Hop on the single-lane country roads with deep ditches on either side, you were stuck. At least if you could get to the two-lane blacktop into Claremore, you had a better chance of passing.
Grady told the rest of the story with care. It involved a special date, a crush from long before he met my mother-in-law, who by then had been at his side for 58 years. He just said she was someone special, and he wanted to make a good impression. He had saved up enough money for a real date, made prior arrangements with his parents to get the car and polished it until it sparkled. Then all duded out in his best clothes, he grabbed the car keys and set out to meet his girl.
“I thought I would just make it if I didn’t run into Hop Hanna,” Grady told us with a chuckle. And sure enough, he made it to the main highway without a problem and shifted through the gears as he raced toward town.
Then, topping a hill, he hit the brakes and slowed to a crawl behind a lumbering truck with a heavy load on a long trailer. His hopes of arriving on time evaporated as the combination of hills and oncoming traffic made passing difficult, and he puttered along in the wake of the large truck for several miles before the terrain leveled and he had an opportunity to go around.
Passing quickly, he realized what had caused the slowdown.
Just ahead of the big truck’s front bumper cruised a slow-moving, all-too-familiar Ford pickup. In the driver’s seat, peering from under the brim of a battered cowboy hat, hands clenched on the wheel, eyes intent on the road ahead… the familiar face of Hop Hanna.
Dave Berry is editor of the Tyler Morning Telegraph. Starting today, his column will appear every Wednesday on the front of the My Generation section. Join me tomorrow at “Seniors Celebrating Life,” 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursday at Harvey Convention Center. I’ll be at the Tyler Morning Telegraph booth.