March 1987

David E. Davis, Jr.

In memory of our founder, David E. Davis, Jr., Automobile Magazine editors are choosing our ten favorite American Driver columns and will be posting one each day over the next two weeks.

There are no good funerals, although Hitler’s might have been fun to attend, had he had one, and I do think I’d like to go to Ralph Nader’s. However, I did participate in a burial ceremony that had some diverting moments not long ago, starting with a funeral procession that included a 4x4 Suburban, a beat-up red Ford pickup with four-wheel drive, and a Honda three-wheeler.

Last spring my Aunt Harriette died. My Aunt Harriette Simpson Arnow was a famous writer. Among other things, fiction and nonfiction, Aunt Harriette wrote a great novel called The Dollmaker, which over the decades became a sort of cult book in the women’s movement, then gained new fame a couple of years ago when Jane Fonda made it into a TV movie.

The Dollmaker was about the migration of rural southerners to the factories in the north, specifically about a Kentucky woman who tried in vain to keep her family and its values intact when they left home and moved to Detroit and the wartime automobile factories. My mother and father, my Aunt Harriette, my Aunt Lucy and my Aunt Willie all participated in that great migration, and although none of them came to work in the car plants, my dad did spend some time on a Ford assembly line during the Depression, as did I some sixteen or seventeen years later.

Harriette enjoyed a special place in our family’s regard because she was, after all, the only one of us to achieve fame. Her first book was published in the Thirties, and it made her more than an aunt or a sister or a cousin, it made her a literary figure in a family that lived surrounded by books, a family that loved the contents of its books the way other families loved silver plate or ancestral portraits. It was my books, as much as my knock-knees, that kept me from achieving very much as an athlete. (Racing sports cars was the first and only sporting success I enjoyed, until years later when I got serious about shotguns.)

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