March 2017

by Marshall Chapman

Doodlebug, etc. …

Does your car have a name?
Mine does.
I call it Doodlebug. It’s a 2010 silver Prius.

In the weeks following my mother’s death in 2014, while cleaning out her house in Spartanburg, my two sisters and I agreed that they would get all the silver that you polish (candelabras, flatware, pitchers, trays, and so on), leaving me the silver that you plug in or drive, as in laptop, iPad, and Toyota Prius. Based on our individual tastes, this seemed a fair settlement and everybody went home happy.

The first time I drove Mama’s Prius, the idea to name it Doodlebug just came to me out of the blue. But I imagine there was a subconscious connection.

My mother grew up next to a sand and gravel pit outside Lilesville, North Carolina. As a child, I loved visiting her homeplace. On one such visit, an old African-American man named June, who lived behind my grandparents’ house, showed me how to summon a doodlebug from the ground by leaning over its hole (which looked like an inverted anthill) chanting, “Doodlebug, Doodlebug, come on home. Your house is on fire and your children are gone. Doodlebug, Doodlebug, come on home.” Nine times out of ten, a little gray doodlebug would come wiggling up out of the ground, much to everyone’s delight.

I haven’t named all my cars over the years, but a few seemed to beg for a moniker. Like Whitetrash, a white (with red interior) 1960 Ford Galaxie that I bought for two hundred dollars in 1972.

This practice of naming cars began in 1957 when I was an eight-year-old tomboy growing up in Spartanburg, South Carolina. Some neighborhood boys and I built our own go-carts or mini-cars using the wheels from our Radio Flyer wagons (which we’d outgrown), discarded two-by-fours, and steering wheels from a local junkyard. These makeshift cars even had braking systems, which we constructed out of rope, pullies and a hinge. Johnny Dargan, who lived next door, painted his car black and silver and named it Sputnik. Miles Elmore, who lived across the street, named his Bernardine (after the Pat Boone hit). Miles’s car was the only one to have a motor, which he’d removed from an old lawnmower. My car was named Songbird after Sky King’s plane. Which is pretty damn cosmic considering that seventeen years later, I became a songwriter.

My late brother was a car enthusiast. At one point, he owned five—each one named after a first lady. But that’s a whole ‘nother story.

Photograph by Anthony Scarlati

Marshall Chapman is a Nashville-based singer/songwriter, author, and actress. For more information, visit www.tallgirl.com.

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