On May 16th of this year, my “little man” (a nineteen year old, 6 foot, almost 4 inch 235 pounder, or “little man” in name only), wrecked his Chevy Trailblazer. This has changed our focus this summer as a family to one of waiting on things to get settled, trucking him back and forth to work and other needed points, and looking for a replacement vehicle.
Which brings me to today’s subject. It’s good for parents to reflect on their own experience with cars. None of us are perfect, you see.
My first car was a 1980 Dodge Omni. I didn’t get it at 19 or 20. I think I was half way in my 21st year before I decided I needed a vehicle. I didn’t know how I was going to get one, but I had saved a little money that summer and found a car for sale by a private owner. I liked what I saw, ran to the bank and got a signature loan and went and paid for it. The problem was it had a problem with an alternator and a radiator, and liked to quit when you ran the air conditioner. I gained experience about cars that summer (I think it was 1985). I removed the radiator myself, took it to a place in downtown Kingsport, Tennessee where it was baked out, leaks plugged, and repainted. I put it back in myself. I’ll never forget when I removed the hose from underneath, while lying directly beneath it, I decided to look in the hose. I was baptized without repenting. But that’s another blog, and I’ll save that for a more theological posting.
Anyhow, time went forward, and I proudly drove my newly repaired Omni to Emory & Henry College that fall, enjoying having the luxury of a vehicle on campus (a campus that was initially very intentionally built about fifteen miles away from the wickedness inherent in the town of Abingdon), and was doing well until one Friday. That particular Friday was the 13th of September, and the day my good friend went out on his first date with his later-to-be wife. I had driven back home that day after classes, with a companion, a buddy from the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. I was driving through Weber City, Virginia on the four lane, coming northbound up from the one traffic light at Yuma Road, when I changed lanes, driving left, and gaining speed only to see three cars stopped dead in front of me. I slammed on the brakes to avoid hitting them, and just barely stopped when I looked in the mirror. An older gentleman driving a fairly old pick-up was coming up behind me with similar speed that I had just been traveling. I told my buddy “We’re going to be hit!” I repeated those words three times, and in what can only be known as literary irony, Mr Archie Vermillion (God rest his soul), hit me squarely in the back end, busting my rear window and effectively totaling my newly repaired first vehicle. No one was hurt. My barber shop was right across from where the accident had happened. They let me stay in their shop until help could get there and get us home. The car was towed to a salvage yard, and insurance thankfully paid off my signature loan, putting me back at square one.
So I went car shopping again. This time I was talking to a salesman at a car lot off Stone Drive in Kingsport. I was acknowledging and bewailing what all had happened and was explaining what I needed. He told me he had a little vehicle at his home that he had purchased for his own daughter and explained that it would make a great car for me, and since his daughter couldn’t drive a manual transmission vehicle, he’d like to get rid of it. I bit that bait and bought a bright red Mazda GLC, a little hatchback that got great gas mileage and serviced my needs for the next three and a half years. It became my home as I traveled to internships across the state of North Carolina while in Divinity School at Duke.
Then on a trip one February in 1989 to do some research for a history paper I needed to write, I made a stop to see a buddy at Blacksburg who was a student at Virginia Tech. That evening it snowed six inches rather rapidly and more snow was coming so I canceled my library research weekend and started traveling back to Durham, NC, taking an alternative route to try and stay ahead of the snow. This was 1989, and I didn’t have a Weather Channel App on my Cell phone, since cell phones were not widely in use yet and Apps hadn’t been invented, and the Weather Channel was just a small cable outlet that hadn’t grown like it has now. So I was headed to Roanoke, planning to travel down 220 and across some roads through northern North Carolina. Only one lane of I-81 was clear, and it was slushy, and my little GLC didn’t have real good tires. I was traveling about 35 miles per hour when some kind of four wheel drive vehicle came careening around me, making me react by sticking by danged foot on the brake.
Screaming, steering, sliding, and other “S” words ensued.
I turned completely around (180 degrees) and hit a guard rail in the median, facing traffic when I stopped. The engine quit, and I got out and looked at the damage. I had a beautiful indentation in the fender where the car had hit the guard rail, it looked just like the guard rail in that place. I decided I was okay and if I could get the car started I would try to move it. So I got in and tried it twice before it started. I moved it forward, waiting on the oncoming traffic, and finding a break, I turned it around and headed back toward my destination. Somehow I made it down 581 and on down to Rocky Mount, and through the northern tier of counties in North Carolina, and six hours later I was in Durham, having travelled in more than 15 inches of snow on back roads that had never seen a plow and barely had tracks, and in some places you weren’t sure you were still on the road. I survived, but my car didn’t. It was shot. Things were leaking from underneath, and that indentation made it look like that fender could just be blown off with a child’s breath.
So I went car shopping. Somehow I talked a salesman into selling me a brand new VW Jetta, also manual transmission, without having to pay a cent until June when I anticipated going to my very first pastoral appointment. It was way too much car for me at that point in my life, but it ran like a top, and I was in good stead.
But after arriving at my first appointment, in a little place called Belfast in the hills of Russell County, Virginia, I didn’t have great luck. My first Easter Sunday, in 1990, I was finishing preaching at my first little church at the foot of Paintlick, when I realized I had only 8 minutes to make a twelve minute trip and I tried to make up the time on a little farm road, a barely paved road that was just wide enough to pass a vehicle, but most of the time you drove a little over past the middle because the pavement was better there, and not having paint on it, it was difficult to gauge. I was driving too fast. I popped across a little hill only to find another car facing me, taking their half out of the middle too. Seeing I was going to hit them if I didn’t move, I swerved to the right while trying to slow down, and, well, five fence posts later, I found myself stopped with my car under a strand of barbed wire, beneath an ancient tree that stood at the top of a ravine, and which in fact kept me from tumbling down the ravine to a creek. I checked to make sure I was okay. Everything seemed all right. I exited the vehicle, wearing my liturgical vestments for Easter, my white robe and a multi-colored stole that I had purchased in Mexico. Standing in a cow pasture with big bovine grins looking back at me, tails swishing, I thought, “maybe white isn’t the best color for cow pastures.”
The farmer who owned the fence came out of his house, surveyed my situation, and didn’t say a word about my strange appearance. He just said, “Preacher,” (somehow he knew who I was although I hadn’t met him before), “Here, take my car.” I had to get to the worship service. This car wasn’t going to make it there. I gladly took him up on his offer, and drove and preached with my knees knocking under my robe. I didn’t tell anyone what happened until after worship.
The insurance repaired that car after several weeks. I’ll never forget what happened a few days after that accident. I was borrowing a church member’s car, gassing it up at the Belfast BBQ and gas station. A fellow named Porgy came out, and cheerfully greeted me: “Preacher, I heard you had a little accident.” “Yes, Porgy.” “Preacher, I only have one thing to say.” “What’s that, Porgy?” “Preacher, in Belfast, you don’t ever have to be in a hurry.” “Thank you, Porgy.”
Well, I won’t bore you with the rest of my car stories. But, after “Little Man” came home from his first wreck, he was concerned. I asked him why. He responded, “You guys are too calm, no one’s fussed at me.” I didn’t say a word. Should I tell him about all this? I think you beat yourself up after times like this. So, maybe he’ll learn. Maybe I will. One can only hope.