Do you ever have those moments where something your parents said rings out in a moment you’re having with your children? Well, it happens to me. I find myself sounding like my mom or my dad and thinking “how did I let this happen?”
This week, two separate instances reminded me of one of the scariest moments of my teenage life.
I was driving to my step-dad’s company picnic in the Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme recently passed down to me.
My little sister was in the car with me.
We spotted a young mother, walking with a baby on her hip. It was so hot outside. If I remember correctly, she was pulling another young child by the hand and she had a gallon of milk. She just looked over-whelmed.
The site of her shook my conscience. Here I was, sixteen years old, with a credit card in my ashtray and a car. Yeah, it was the family car, but it was a car!
But I remembered what it was like to struggle. I remembered what it was like when my mom could barely scrape enough change to add a little meat to our pinto beans. And I didn’t like that memory at all.
So I turned around to help this mama, walking down the road while her milk was sweating. Guess what happened?
BAM! I collided with an older lady. I still think the woman who turned right on red should have been at fault. But she was older. She didn’t have any tickets. She played on my “teenager-ness”. The headlight was busted, and the front end was damaged.
My step-father was an old Marine. He kept things immaculate. There were no scratches, no dents on his cars. They didn’t even leak oil in the driveway. How was I going to show this to him?
The worst part? There weren’t cell phones back then. Not like what we have. So I couldn’t call him and give him a warning. I just had to deal with the police man, exchange information, and go on to the picnic.
I drove a few miles with my hands shaking uncontrollably. I pulled into the park where his co-workers were gathered. I spotted him immediately. Those last yards I drove passed by in slow-motion.
I did not want to get out of the car. I thought I was going to throw-up. My head was spinning. His gaze was locked on me with a quizzical expression. I gathered my courage and got out of that Cutlass. It was the ultimate walk of shame. Everyone was looking at me.
I got closer, and he asked what happened. I told him I wrecked the car. My voice was shaking uncontrollably. He put his arms around me and said “well, you’re OK. Was anyone else hurt?”
Despite her efforts to sue us later with a fake case of whiplash, there were no injuries in my little fender bender. And his words still live with me today. “It’s just a car, baby girl.”
A few days ago my son was following too close behind his sister. A crazy rain storm ended our day at the Blue Hole a little too soon. We headed home in a down pour. A few miles down the road, my phone rang. My son said “I wrecked into Hannah.”
We turned around and went back to the scene. I found a very upset Blondie. All I could think was “it’s just a car, baby girl.” No one was hurt. The damage was minimal. Clearly everything was going to be alright.
A few days later, another panicked teenage girl called me in tears. “I don’t think I can go swimming with you today,” she sobbed. She’d had a little fender bender in Austin. But she was OK, and the other lady was just fine. And once again, I thought of that booming voice that once told me “it’s just a car, baby girl.” And I said his words again.
For all our imperfections, there were some special moments that passed between us. And even though he’s not on this earth anymore, I don’t think he’s really gone. I think our loved ones stay with us. He was my other dad. And sometimes I miss him and think about what he’d tell me when I’m trying to figure something out.
That day in the park, he showed me how much I really was loved. He didn’t worry about the broken headlight or the dented fender. He just took me by the shaking hand and said “it’s OK.” Cars will come and cars will go- but as long as we still have each other, there’s nothing a fender bender can do to ruin that.
And you know what, even though I wrecked that Cutlass, he still bought me a little red sports car for my senior year!