|Photo: Alden Jewell|
Rick was ecstatic! This old 1949 Pontiac Chieftain he had purchased from my grandfather was the car he had always wanted. Day after day, for several years, he had driven past Grandpa’s house, seeing the old car parked under the carport, or watched the old man drive cautiously down the street past his own home. Even in the late 1960’s, the big auto was still in nice condition, having been driven no place else for years than to the grocery store or taking my grandmother to work at the nursing home a couple of miles down the road. Rick, a big man, drove a little Volkswagen Beetle and it wasn’t a good fit, in more ways than just the physical sense. It was safe to say that he was in love with the old Chieftain.
Then came the day that Grandpa put the “For Sale” sign in the window of the old four-door sedan. He had purchased a much newer 1962 Impala and no longer had need of the heavy old sedan with the faded TCU Horned Frogs decal in the back window. His asking price was right and Rick couldn’t get his wallet out quickly enough. The transaction was quickly completed and the car made its way out of Grandpa’s driveway for the last time. For the next few days, the old car flew back and forth along the avenue between our houses repeatedly. To my knowledge, it had never moved anywhere nearly that fast when the old gentleman had been at the wheel. Grandpa was not happy, either. I remember his annoyance as the car blasted past, going to or from whatever errand Rick and his wife had to do in the days after they purchased it. It was no longer his car, but still, he didn’t want to see it abused.
I was in the room the day (just the next week) when Rick bragged to his friends that the old beauty would go ninety miles an hour. “I had it out on the expressway and it just blew the doors off of everything else on the road!” the cocky man boasted. I thought back at how my Grandpa used to creep along the road in that car, always a few miles below the speed limit. It wasn’t any of my business, but I chimed in, “That car’s not used to being driven that fast,” to no one in particular. The big man scoffed. “It can take it! This car was built for speed.”
Three days later, the car was parked in the tall grass of the vacant lot behind Rick’s house. It never moved from the spot until it went to the salvage yard. No, he hadn’t wrecked it. Instead, he was flying down the highway one afternoon, when the car decided that it didn’t care much for its new owner’s driving style and, in protest, threw a rod through the crankcase.
Rick was devastated. The old car he had purchased from my Grandpa, the car he had always wanted, was finished. He went back to driving the Volkswagen. I’m not sure if he was any wiser, but he was definitely sadder.
Years later, I was to remember Rick’s example…too late. I purchased the 1972 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme from a local preacher. “It’s a good solid car, Paul,” he promised, as he took my money and handed me the keys. I believed him, but I wasn’t interested in “solid”. This car was for impressing people. I already had the cute redhead beside me, so I wasn’t out to show-off for the girls, but I did want to impress the other guys around town with this car’s power. For a few weeks, I had no problem with that. Then one day, I was poking along behind a friend, as he leisurely made his way to another friend’s house. Intent on showing him what my beautiful blue hardtop could do, I floored the three hundred-fifty cubic inches and roared up beside him. Just as the rear end of the car passed his door, I felt a slight lurch and white smoke began to pour out from the exhaust pipe, the billows of steam completely erasing my friend and his car from my rear-view mirror. I wished that I could disappear, too.
The blown head gasket was a not-so-subtle reminder of a lesson that I should have learned all those years before. I have never claimed to be the brightest crayon in the box and I certainly proved it that day.
But, is there a bigger lesson to be learned from these cars? How do we determine a moral to the story? I’m not sure if we need spend too much time on that tonight. You will, no doubt, recall the story that Mr. Aesop told of the man who had a valuable goose. He waited patiently every day and was compensated with one golden egg for his patience. In a moment of intense greed, the man killed the bird to acquire all of the wealth at one time, but was rewarded with nothing more than an ordinary dead goose.
In a similar manner, simply put, the moral of the cars is this; For a few seconds of pride, a lifetime of usefulness was sacrificed. It’s a moral which could easily fit many other situations, but you will know best how to apply it for yourself.
I’m still learning the lesson, too. Let’s just hope that it doesn’t take another blown head gasket (either the real thing or a more symbolic one) to imprint it indelibly in my feeble brain.
“A farmer, bent on doubling the profits from his land,
Proceeded to set his soil a two-harvest demand.
Too intent thus on profit, harm himself he must needs;
Instead of corn, he now reaps corn-cockle and weeds.”
(Ignacy Krasicki~Polish moralist~1735-1801)
“Before destruction is pride, and before stumbling–a haughty spirit.”
(Proverbs 16:18~Young’s Literal Translation)
© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2012. All Rights Reserved.