When I was a child and living in California, I remember my father having one of these old Renault Daphines. He bought it for 50 dollars and drove it home. It was black and it smelled old when it got hot inside.
This picture isn’t the same car. The lady in the picture isn’t my mother….and our driveway was a lot smaller and wasn’t cobblestone….so I know this isn’t a picture taken at our house…but it’s the same car.
There was something wrong with the car…so my father took it apart. There were a lot of big metal pieces laying around on the garage floor for a while…greasy pieces that my sister and I were told not to touch. He worked on it until he’d fixed it and put it all back together. When it was done, he drove it to work.
A child’s estimation of their parents is formed in a great many ways. Usually, it isn’t the “watch me…check this out…see what I can do” moments that make the biggest impression (I don’t remember my father having any of these…he was pretty understated). For me, it was the moments like when I was standing at the garage door watching my father work out something…figuring out why the car wouldn’t go backwards….and of him having the confidence to try and fix the problem.
It never was the moment that my father crossed the goal line to score the winning touchdown….or made the big deal…landed back on Earth after setting foot on Mars for the first time….it wasn’t any of those things that helped me see his victory. It was all the big and small ways that I saw him keep trying. Those memories are my true legacy.
My mother was pretty ill off and on for the last 15 years of her life. When she was first diagnosed with the condition that pretty quickly took away her ability to walk and care for herself, I remember her crying and asking my father, “oh Dick….what are we going to do?”…and my father telling her, “we’re going to play the hand that’s dealt us.” It wasn’t self pitying…or fatalistic…he never expressed any thoughts that God had given us a bum deal…he just quietly went about the daily tasks of being a husband and caregiver.
I remember one sunny day in California waiting in the driveway for my father to come home from work. The little Renault had broken down on the highway, so he called my mother and told her he’d be late, and then called a tow truck to bring him the rest of the way. Years later, when I asked him why it broke down, he told me it had been the battery.
I don’t know why I remember half of what I do recall. I forget to buy the half and half, but I remember the smell of an old Renault sitting in the California sun. I’m not sure why some things stick in my head like that.
I think that even as a child I probably knew that my father didn’t know everything…but I never questioned that he was going to make things better somehow. I hope that I can give my own children that offering…that they can take it for granted that I am going to somehow come through for them in the end.