If I wasn't at school, I was working, and if I wasn't working, I was at church. Time for sleep never came easy but then again, at sixteen, who needs rest? Unlike most kids, I didn't get my driver's license as soon as my birthday came around. Independence never felt like a big deal. Plenty of opportunities arose growing up on a farm that kept me busy and free to experience life without guidance. The bus took me to school, and I had several people who gave me rides to work and church. And, of course, I always had my trusty bicycle for quick trips around the neighborhood.
I'm embarrassed to say, but the day Mom surprised me with a car a couple of months after I turned sixteen left me a bit underwhelmed. First, I didn't see the need for my own transportation, and second, I was ashamed of the 1971 Volvo sitting in the yard. The car was ugly; the wipers didn't work, and when I started it up, the engine shook and felt like it would eventually fall right out from under the thing. My brother insisted it was a good car and said everything would be fine.
The bus was the best option while I debated driving to school for several weeks. Puttering into MCHS with black smoke rolling from my pristine automobile was not an appealing thought. Even worse, what if the car flat-out refused to start when I was ready to go home? I'd never hear the end of it from my classmates as they drove by, making fun of my situation. I knew I would have to go for it sooner or later and hope for the best. I'd keep my fingers crossed all the way to school while my asscheeks clenched tight enough to crack a walnut. I'd decided that I may as well give it a shot.
After tossing my books in the back, I sat in the driver's seat and said a little prayer. The engine cranked, and I felt a sigh of relief. My solace was short-lived once the motor chose to vibrate wildly, which quickly turned into a knock, and finally, silence after one last cough as if the machine had taken its final breath. Further investigation revealed a strange-looking radioactive mixture oozing from underneath. I grabbed my books and again waited on the bus. I was thankful it happened at home and not at school for sure, but it was pretty discouraging. I was becoming a man, and part of that process was driving a car. I remember being upset with my mother for buying me a piece of junk.
Two things come to mind whenever I think back on my first car. The first is how much I miss people giving me rides everywhere. It must have been a burden on them, but there was something special about it. We get to know each other pretty well when we're stuck in a car together for a few minutes. It's not often we find the time to sit and talk to friends and family. I missed hearing Uncle Neb tell me about how much money he won playing cards on the way home from work. The deep talks and insight I'd get from my church family were often more valuable than what I learned during the sermon. It gave me the chance to hear about Mom's day without distractions.
The second thing was the pride on my mother's face when she showed me the car. Today I know how important that moment was for her. We never had much money, so I'm sure it wasn't easy for her to scrape up enough to make the purchase. But she did it because that's what parents do. If I could go back in time, I'd thank her for the gift just like I did when she presented it so many years ago. Only this time around, I'd mean it. More importantly, I'd thank her for teaching me to be humble, even though it took me years to understand.