Lessons Learned

Lessons Learned

She was the best of cars, she was the worst of cars, the old double worn out station wagon of my childhood. She was ugly, hard to start, and when she wasn’t pulling to the left, she was pulling to the right. Still, somehow my parents managed to steer old Bessie. Despite her screaming fan belts, smoking tail pipe, bad shocks, temperamental AC and windows that rolled down only when they wanted to, she always took us to wherever we needed to be, and on time.

She was older than our granny my little brother claimed. He also claimed Bessie’s  ‘maypop,’ tires were slicker than our grandpa’s head, and that was true. We all had our reasons for hating old Bessie, especially when we saw the new sporty models on television or parked in driveways on the rich side of town.

I hated the way old Bessie made me feel when mama parked her close to the grocery store. Most of the time Bessie’s motor refused to shut-off without an argument even though the screw driver mama used to start her was  out of the ignition and under the floor mat. It was almost as embarrassing as when Bessie wouldn’t crank and mama made me get out and tap on the battery while passersby watched and shook their heads.

My brother hated her body style, and talked a lot of trash about the her fins. He liked to called her Bessie the Batmobile, which made us laugh. I remember one time he thought he could improve on Bessie’s paint job with some spray paint he found in my grandpa’s tool shed. Dribbled with paint left over from a thousand projects, old Bessie took on the look of a rainbow and and a camouflage tank. Dad didn’t beat him, didn’t even say a word. My dad was didn’t worry about things like that.

He only smiled, and reminded us who was paying for the gas and told us not to be getting any ideas or we would be walking like our neighbors the Marks. They didn’t have a car anymore, and hitched rides with us.

It was their own fault. They had a car they hated too,  only theirs was a man car, and they called him Blue. Blue and Bessie could have easily been brother and sister and the neighbor kids hated him like we hated Bessie, but even more.

So much in fact, that one night while their parents tired from working double shifts for money to put them through college, those kids destroyed old Blue. They figured with the old clunker gone their dad and mom would hurry right down to the car lot and bring home a new car, like the ones they saw on television.

We heard them all the way from our house when they pounced on their helpless old heap. They smashed out Blues’ windows, headlights, poured sugar in his tank, slashed his tires and seats, and that was before they brought out the matches and gasoline. It took the fire department an hour to put out the flames. By then their was nothing but a burned out skeleton of what had been. It sat there in the Marks’s back yard, old Blue did, to be overgrown by weeds and serve as a painful reminder. There was no new car. Their mom and dad worked at the same factory as ours.

It was on one of our trips to our granny’s, seeing the Marks kids walking from the grocery store, hot sun blazing and thunder clouds brewing, that got me and my brother and sister thinking about Bessie in a different way.

“At least old Bessie gets us to the grocery store,” my sister said which surprised us all. Most of the time she complained about Bessie’s AC not working.

“And to Granny’s,” my brother added.

“And to the doctor,” mama reminded us.

“And to the fishing hole,” daddy said.

“And to the drive-in.” It was my brother’s turn again.

“And when she’s parked in the driveway, we can leave our bicycles outside.”

“And she only breaks down every once and a while, not even twice a year.”

“And she gets us to Mighty Burger, when we make good grades”

“And to scouts.”

“Ball games.”

“And most important, she gets us to church,” my sister said, which surprised us all.

By the time we reached our grandparent’s house, Old Bessie had become the most beautiful car in the world.

What happens to old cars like Bessie? Where do they go? I ask myself quite often these days when I long for all of us, mama,daddy, sister, brother, and me, to be back in old Bessie, going somewhere together, anywhere, windows down, breeze blowing, happy.

This is a work of fiction.

Edward Reed 2020