Blog entry #4 (March 25, 2004 – March 26, 2004) Reunion with Millie and Jake, Biloxi, MS.

 

We arrived in Biloxi, Mississippi on March 25, 2004, 6 days and 1,076 miles after our departure from Cary, North Carolina.  Mixed feelings of anticipation and apprehension were overridden with the slow realization that we had actually made it to Biloxi to fulfill our pilgrimage.  After calling Millie and Jake to let them know that we had settled in at a gulf-side hotel about a mile from their house, I cajoled the front desk into letting us use their outside hose to spruce up the Jeep for its 41-year reunion with its original owners that afternoon.   

 

Millie and Jake had first moved from New Orleans, Louisiana to Biloxi, Mississippi in 1949.  In 1963 they moved to their current home on a quiet street, a couple of blocks from the Gulf of Mexico.  The neat and trim home was much like the mental image I had formed from our several conversations. All apprehensions fell away on both sides just as soon as we met.  They graciously invited us in for a very warm and comfortable visit that afternoon.  We had gotten to know Millie fairly well through our letters and telephone conversations.  Jake, on the other hand, I had only spoken to once by phone earlier that day.  I was anxious to learn more about this senior gentleman.  In our early conversations, Millie had cautioned me that the house might not be too tidy, as she spent most of her spare time at home tending to the garden.  Well, we never asked, and she never offered to explain how the house came to be in such fine order when we arrived.  After a couple hours of truly interesting conversation (barely touching on the history these fine people possessed), Jean and I retired to our hotel for a brief respite.  At Millie and Jake’s invitation, we returned to their home later that evening to share pizza around the kitchen table.  Great fun!

 

The next morning, we picked up Millie and Jake for their first ride in the Jeep in 41 years.  While Jean and Millie attended a morning Mass at a local Catholic Church, Jake directed me on a driving tour of Biloxi.  After Mass, Jake and I picked up the “girls” for a visit to Beau Rivage, one of Biloxi’s finer casinos, for a look-see and snack. From there, we visited St. Michael Church, a modern structure of unusual circular design.  Next, it was on to a large seafood restaurant on the Gulf for a delightful lunch of freshly caught sea food.  I found it inwardly amusing that on two occasions during lunch, we encountered individuals that appeared to be some years our senior, but who were introduced to us by Millie as the “children” of their friends.  Sure gives one a new perspective on the concept of age.

Figure 17: Millie and Jake, the original owners of our 1950 Willys Overland Jeep

Station Wagon, in Biloxi, Mississippi (March 25, 2004).

Figure 18: St. Michael Catholic Church, Biloxi Mississippi (March 26, 2004) -prior to being destroyed

by Hurricane Katrina the subsequent year.  The Church has since been fully restored.

Figure 19: The Interior of St. Michael Church in Biloxi, Miss. during our visit. (March 26, 2004)

 

That afternoon, while the others took a little afternoon rest, I looked into auto service locations where I might take the Jeep for a general look-over and lube.  

After checking with two modern shops that would have nothing to do with “that old a car” for “liability reasons”, I redirected my search to the earliest established auto shops that I could find.

After finding an ad in the Biloxi Yellow Pages that stated “personalized service since 1931”, I scheduled an appointment with TORRICELLI MOTORS INC. for the next morning.

In the evening we returned to Millie and Jake’s for some pie and ice cream.

It was during a tour of Jake’s home shop that I really got to know and admire the gentleman.  In the mid 1940’s Jake crisscrossed the state of Mississippi for the Shell Oil Company.  Traveling mostly on gravel roads, Jake led a crew that went from one service station to the next refurbishing and updating Shell service stations (remember when gas stations used to provide services?).  As this routine typically took him away from home for many months, despite objections from the company, Jake brought Millie along.

In 1950, fearing that the impending Korean Conflict would bring about a repeat of the rationing of automobile parts that he had experienced during World War II, Jake purchased new our Jeep station wagon.   In 1953, after a stint as a construction contractor at Keefer Air Force Base, Jake opened his own sign painting business in Biloxi.  He spent his evenings devising creative techniques and fixtures to facilitate layout and construction of his signs.  In his shop, Jake showed me a fixture that he had constructed for laying out large elliptical patterns on vertical surfaces single handedly.  He also shared with me a construction technique that he had devised for laying out large military stars, a routine requirement for a sign painter on a military post.   The Jeep was extensively used for transporting construction materials for Jake’s business, and by Millie for making many of the finished sign deliveries.  It also provided a convenient means of transporting Jake’s fishing boat during the off hours.  

 

Jake subsequently sold the Jeep to a local Biloxi mechanic in 1963.  The mechanic soon sold it to a soldier at Keefer Air Force Base in Biloxi.  Jake believed that the soldier drove the car to Arizona and ultimately up to Saline, Michigan where we subsequently purchased it in 1976 for $125.

 

Blog entry #3 Trek to Biloxi (March 20, 2004 – March 25, 2004) Columbia, SC; Warm Springs and Pine Mountain, GA; Gulf Shores and Dauphin Island, AL
Blog entry #5 (March 27, 2004) Jeep Maintenance Adventure