When I graduated from high school I needed a car to drive to college. My older brother had faced this dilemma before and had demanded my parents buy him a car. My mother laughed and told him to get a job and buy his own car, which he eventually did.
So when my turn came I chose a different strategy. When asked about college I told my folks, “I don’t think I’ll go to college.”
My mother was appalled. “I thought you were planning on going to the local community college and then transferring to UCLA.” Although neither of my parents went to college, both grew up in big families that prized education.
I had only one hand to play and needed to play it well. “If I went to college,” I said to my parents, “I’d need a car. And you guys have already given me so much that I couldn’t possibly ask you for something so expensive. So I think I’ll just stay home, get a job at McDonald’s and live with you guys.”
There wasn’t any more discussion about it, but a few weeks later there was a car waiting for me in the driveway, a fairly new ‘68 blue Volkswagen Beetle. Without my knowledge, Dad had purchased it at a police auction and, being a professional mechanic, had replaced the damaged engine with a new one. My plan had worked; I’d succeeded where my older brother hadn’t. I was handed a practically new car.
I enrolled at the local community college. The campus was nearly twenty miles away but the distance wasn’t a problem thanks to my blue bug. I was desperate to leave home but two years would pass quickly. Soon enough I’d be off to Los Angeles, the land of my fantasies, few of which had anything to do with college.
Of course I still lived at home during this time, and my dad would frequently ask me if
I was taking good care of my car. I assured him I was. A lie, of course. It’s a sad fact that young people seldom take care of anything obtained without effort. Had I worked to earn my car, like my brother did, I’d have cherished it, maybe even washed it and rotated the tires, had I taken time to learn how. But I wasn’t a good car owner. I filled the beetle with gas and expected it to run perfectly.
One Saturday after visiting friends, I drove home and saw Dad hosing down the driveway. When I parked at the curb and climbed out of my car he said, “You’ve been adding water to the radiator every few weeks, haven’t you?”
I looked my father in the eye and said, “Of course.”
“Glad to hear it,” he said.
I snuck out of the house minutes later when Dad moved his watering to the back yard. I drove furiously to the nearest gas station where I yelled at the attendant, “I’ve had this car for four months and I’ve never put water in the radiator! What should I do?”
“You should learn more about your car,” he said. “Volkswagen Bugs are air-cooled. They don’t have radiators.”
“They don’t?” I asked with relief.
“They don’t,” he said.
When I drove home Dad was curling the hose and putting it away. He was a man of few words. His smile said it all.