My First Car

Not Smart Enough for College (37)

The year started out on a high. I was living in Italy, having one of those grand life changing experiences so important in young adulthood. But that was cut short when I developed a kidney disease and had to return home for treatment. Even though my doctors would not allow me to do any physical labor or play any sports, I got their approval to attend the university on a part time basis and thus started my journey back to moving on with life as much as possible. 


Next on the list: a car! It was 1969 and my budget was $900. I was confident that was sufficient to purchase a used car in decent condition, and, hope against hope, cool enough to help me get a few dates. 


Dad and I set off on our hunt and finally found a car we both liked, a 1963 Chevrolet Impala. It was fire engine red with two doors and a red interior. It was a beautiful car. Kind of sporty but not a real sports car. It was fun to drive, and I took great care of it.


One beautiful summer evening I had the chance to go fishing with a group of friends. The weather was perfect, and we were all looking forward to a fun time.


I drove my car and arrived at the lake at about six o’clock. As I pulled off the road at the designated meeting spot, a truck carrying farm supplies crashed into the rear end of my beautiful car and ended that fishing trip on the spot. We were out in the middle of nowhere and the car needed to be towed for repairs (pre-cell phone days, you know). Fortunately, a highway patrolman happened to be passing and stopped to help.


I knew this accident was not my fault, but that’s not how the investigating officer saw it, especially after talking to the driver of the truck, a local boy from the nearby town. I pleaded my case, but my pleas scattered into the wind and I got the ticket. The officer called a tow truck for me while the other driver waved goodbye with a smirk on his face.


A week or so later, Dad and I drove back to the town near the lake to take care of the ticket. The judge asked me how I wanted to plead. When I asked if I could ask a question before pleading, he said no. I pled “not guilty” and asked if now I could ask a question. The judge said, “Nope! See you in court.” 


Frustrated, Dad and I walked away with thoughts running through both of our minds about how it felt to be on the not so favorable end of the town’s “good ole boy” treatment. We hired an attorney, a friend of Dad’s, who agreed to help as needed. 


Meanwhile, my beautiful car had enough repairs done so that I was able to drive it back home and take it to a body shop for the final finish work. A week later, I called to inquire if it was ready. The shop owner said I could pick it up anytime but advised me to wait one more day because it had been raining and would be better for the new paint to have an extra day to dry. I agreed and told him I would pick it up the following day.


Later that afternoon the shop owner called and said, “There was a fire in the shop this afternoon, and we couldn’t save your car. Your car has been totaled. I’m sorry!” My beautiful car was gone and all I could do was shed a few tears.


A couple of months later I received the summons to appear in court for my ticket. I called the attorney and he said he would check into it. Sure enough, the day before I was to appear before the judge, I was notified that the case had been dropped. I paid my attorney the fee he asked, $5.00 for his telephone call, and felt it was the best five dollars I ever spent.


Though I realize now that the loss of a car is far from the biggest or most important pain in the world, it was a pretty devastating moment for my 21-year-old self. Let’s remember that perspective when our children face challenges. Let’s take the time to help them grieve for the loss of their hope or dream, support them as they shed their tears, then help them learn from their experience and know when it’s time to move forward.


Here’s to helping our children “Fail Forward” in life.


Calvert and Anne

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